Communion With God

To speak of communion with God, we need to have as clear an idea as possible about just who God is.  Who in fact is the God whose existence we affirm, whom we worship, and whose name we either take in vain or venerate with utmost respect and awe?

Too often God has been treated as a presupposition, a reality we take for granted in our efforts to formulate the content of belief – Church doctrine – or to define appropriate patterns of worship and ethical behavior.  There is no doubt that each of us formulates the image of God in our own particular way, depending on our interpretation of sources (Scripture, patristic teaching, liturgy), and depending also on various influences in our life, from the family environment we grew up in, to the people we have met along the pathway of our spiritual journey.  The problem is, as J.B. Phillips reminded us many years ago, the God we picture in our minds is almost always “too small.”  What we imagine to be God is all too often an idol, a pseudo-deity we can manipulate, fashioned according to our particular needs and desires.  Whether he is conceived as an abstract creative principle, a cosmic Judge, a benevolent Santa Claus, or a life-line in times of trouble, the true God is ultimately betrayed by the way we project onto him characteristics and qualities that derive only from our own notions of what he is or should be.  As the product of our ambitions, fears and prejudices, such a God, created in our own image and likeness, is inevitably “too small.”

Yet any God who is too small is no God at all.  And therein lies our difficulty.  The true God is vastly more than any mental conception we might have of him.  Therefore the Fathers of the Church will begin their quest for God by assuming a via negativa, an apophatic or negative approach, that attempts to say what God is not before affirming what he is, an approach that moves through a divine Darkness in order to emerge in the resplendent Light of the divine Presence.  The Fathers recognize that the only language that is truly theoprepeis, “worthy of God,” is a language of mystery and paradox.  Hence their theology is filled with antinomies or apparent oxymorons, such as “Luminous darkness,” “Bright sadness,” “Divine humility,” and the affirmation, incomprehensible outside the Church, that “through the Cross, joy has come into the world.”

Advances in modern science make it clear that the popular conception of God throughout the ages has been what is called a “God of the gaps.”  This God is what the French term a “bouche-trou,” a supernatural deity who provides an answer to questions scientists cannot (yet) answer.  As scientific knowledge advances, however, the gaps in our knowledge of the material world become ever smaller; and hence God himself is increasingly reduced in size and importance, to the point that his very existence becomes unnecessary.  The psalmist’s observation (Ps. 103/104), for example, that God “looks on the earth and it trembles” and “touches the mountains and they smoke” is explained by the phenomena of earthquakes and volcanoes; just as the universal longing for God can be dismissed in light of a common human need for ultimate meaning in an apparently meaningless world; or near-death experiences can be explained neurologically, in terms of brain chemistry.  Science proves, then, that a god-of-the-gaps is ultimately nothing more than an irrelevant fantasy, a needless hypothesis in a world better understood by the disciplines of chemistry, physics and psychology.

But if God cannot be properly conceived as an answer to as yet unanswered scientific questions, how then are we to fathom something of his being, his reality?  If God truly exists, then what evidence do we have of that fact?  To reply to questions of this kind, we can only turn to God’s self-revelation of his being and activity provided for us by his Word, his eternal Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, as that revelation comes to expression in the canonical Scriptures and in the experience of the Church.

We need to begin, therefore, with an overview of the biblical witness to God as he reveals himself in Jesus Christ.  Then we can proceed to the question of how we enter into and sustain a relationship with God that is intimate, personal and life giving, a relationship of genuine “communion” with God that carries us through this life and into life beyond.

It is often said today that we live in a post-Christian, even anti-Christian world.  Atheism proclaims itself to be the new “religion,” the only appropriate and accurate vision there is of the world and human kind.  The real dividing line, however, lies not between belief in God and atheism.  It lies rather between two apparently irreconcilable images of God, both of which Scripture maintains are true, yet when they are juxtaposed they pose what for most people today is an irresolvable conundrum.  One of these images is that of God as Creator, the Archê or universal power behind all that exists, who sustains everything through time and space.  This is the God who draws all things from non-existence into being, who governs the birth of galaxies and the movement of elementary particles.  And this, too, is a God in whom any specialist in astrophysics or quantum mechanics can believe (from this perspective, “God” is the key in the quest for a unified field theory).  On the other hand, there is the image of God as Redeemer, a being of limitless compassion, love and mercy, who accepts personal suffering and the consequences of mortality, in order to lead his children out of their own death and into eternal communion with himself.  We are faced, in other words, with the antinomy of God the all-powerful Master and God the humble Servant, God the Pantocrator and God the Crucified One.  What is so difficult to reconcile are the images of God as the creative Principle in whom all of creation “lives and moves and has its being”; and God who is essentially personal, who comes to us with boundless compassion and humility, the God who is closer to us than our own heart, and who loves us beyond all we can hope or imagine.

To reconcile these two images of God, we need above all to call upon the witness of Israel and the Church, preserved in Holy Scripture.

Throughout the history of Israel, God revealed himself in stages, according to the capacity of the people to grasp the reality of his unique being and presence with them, and to understand its significance for their life and salvation.  The ancestors of the Israelites were polytheists, influenced by the religious cultures from which they came.  Gradually they developed a “henotheistic” perspective that pictured the God of Israel as the first and most powerful among many gods.  It was only with the prophet Jeremiah, during the Exile in Babylon in the sixth century B.C., that the people moved to a genuinely monotheistic perspective.  This tendency finally solidified into a thoroughgoing monotheism a generation later, under the influence of the so-called Deutero-Isaiah, to whom we attribute chapters 40-55 of Isaiah’s prophecy.

The real beginnings of Israel’s monotheistic faith, however, are found in the peoples’ experience of the Exodus from bondage in Egypt that occurred some thirteen to fourteen hundred years before Christ.  Once the disparate pre-Israelites had found their way across the Red Sea and into the Sinai Peninsula, they formed a confederation, founded and maintained by faith in the God who revealed himself to Moses on Mount Sinai.  In an astounding theophany (Exodus 3:14) God identified himself as Ego-eimi, “I AM.”  Moses asks his name, and the reply confirms only God’s life, being and presence.  God reveals himself as “Ho Ôn,” the Existing One, who is Author of all being, both created and uncreated.  Yet this non-Name, which is beyond every name, provides an identity by suggesting that God is to be known by the divine Tetragrammaton, YHWH.  This Hebrew designation is finally rendered in the Septuagint (the third century B.C. Greek version of the Old Testament) as Kyrios or “Lord.”  God reveals himself not by divulging a name, but by affirming his being and lordship.  Thus he both hides himself and makes himself known in the people’s experience, leading them from generation to generation in what will become a true “salvation history.”

Yet God does make himself known by name, or rather by a variety of names, which designate his various functions or activities.  The basic name El, which serves as a common thread, is a Semitic root that signifies “power.”   Thus God becomes known as El Shaddai, “God of the mountain” (meaning Sinai), a designation that appears frequently in the Book of Job to express divine majesty.  He is El Elyon, the Exalted One; or El Olam, the Eternal God.  He is El Berith, the God of the Covenant, sealed in love with his chosen people.  Above all, he is Elohim, a plural term found in the first verses of Genesis.  In the Septuagint, Elohim is rendered Theos, “God,” whereas YHWH translates as Kyrios or “Lord.”  Then there are other names that reveal God’s nature and activity: he is variously addressed as Father, Brother, Rock, King, Judge, and Shepherd.  These are complemented by figures or images that further describe his person and work: he is “a fountain of living water,” “a fountain of life”; he is the “Ancient of Days” (Dan 7:13) or Lord of history; he is “Alpha and Omega,” “the First and the Last,” who embraces all that exists with his creative power and inexhaustible love.  We should not forget that love, like fatherhood, are attributes ascribed to God in the Old Testament as well as the New!  In Hosea 2:19-24, God declares to his beloved Israel: “I will betroth you to me for ever…  I will betroth you to me in righteousness and justice, in steadfast love and mercy!”  And through the voice of the prophet Jeremiah [31:3], the Lord declares, “I have loved you with an everlasting love!”

Above all, God is a God who inspires awe, a holy dread before his power and majesty.  In the words of Deuteronomy (4:24), “The Lord your God is a devouring fire, a jealous God!”  A devouring fire, to burn up Israel’s sinful rebellion; but to enflame Israel’s heart as well, with the unquenchable fire of divine Love.

God thus reveals himself as a living and all-powerful Lord, a Divine Warrior, who acts within history and among nations to defend his chosen people and to work out their salvation.  He is Creator, Lord and King, whose glory and majesty are perceptible in the stars of heaven as in the beauty and upheavals of the natural environment.  Yet this same God is also essentially personal.  He reveals himself as Person, a “Being in communion,” who expresses his intimate love and concern for Israel through the Covenant he establishes with his elect ones, a Covenant that will eventually embrace all the peoples of the earth.

Throughout the Old Testament we find a variety of typological images that the Church Fathers would recognize as prophetic figures of the personal relationship that unites the Holy Trinity in a single divine Essence in which are distinguished three divine Persons.  Trinitarian allusions are found, for example, in the first person plural declaration of the divine council (Gen 1:26): “Let us make man in our image and after our likeness”; and in the visitation of the three angels to Abraham at the oak of Mamre (Gen 18); as well as in the thrice-holy hymn sung by the seraphim in the Temple at Jerusalem (Isa 6).  To early Christian theologians such Old Testament images set the stage for God’s further self-revelation as One who by his very nature is “personal.”  Finally, in the early centuries of the Church the intimately related Father, Son and Spirit of the New Testament witness were affirmed to be three Hypostases or divine Persons, who dwell in an eternal communion of boundless love, and who are united by a common essence and a common will.  One God in Three Persons: such is the Church’s conception of the Godhead, a conception that in no way compromises Jewish-Christian monotheism.

Even under the Old Covenant, then, God opens the way to loving communion with those who seek his face, who obey his commandments and who long to find life and meaning in him.  He does so by revealing himself as “Holy,” meaning “set apart” from every other reality.  He is “the Holy one of Israel” (Isaiah), who calls his people to participate in his holiness: “Be holy,” he declares throughout the book of Leviticus, “for I your God am holy!” (Lev 11:44-45; 19:2; etc.)

The primary characteristic of that holiness is hesed, beneficent mercy and steadfast love (cf. Ps 136/137!).  Thus when Moses carves the two new tablets of stone on which God will inscribe his Law, God declares of himself: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness!” (Ex 34:6).  That divine anger will be termed by the apostle Paul “the wrath of God.”  By this he means that God allows his human creatures to endure the consequences of their rebellion against him, consequences that include sickness, suffering, death and corruption.  Yet as Deutero-Isaiah declared (54:7-8), the wrath of God endures “but for a brief moment,” whereas his love and compassion endure forever.  Even when God is compelled to pronounce judgment upon his people, he accompanies that judgment with a word of promise, of blessing and of mercy (cf. Jer 31; Ez 20; 36:22-36).

Turning to the New Testament, it is clear that Jesus stands in perfect continuity with the conception of God presented throughout the Hebrew Scriptures.  Yet Jesus vastly expands on that Old Testament image, both by his words and by his actions.  As the eternal Son of God, the God-man come in the flesh, he is himself God.  His revelation is thus a self-revelation.  The close of the prologue to St John’s Gospel will therefore declare that the Son literally “exegetes” the Father, ekeinos exêgêsato (1:18).  We behold the person of the Father in the face of the Son.  In Jesus, one might say, apophatic knowledge of God becomes cataphatic.   For Jesus, in the words of St Paul, is the “visible image of the invisible God,” the true icon of the Father (Col 1:15).  In Jesus the inchoate, embryonic self-revelation of God to ancient Israel, like the whole of his purpose in creating a thoroughgoing “salvation history,” is accomplished, fully realized.  As the troparion of Transfiguration declares, Jesus revealed himself, together with the presence and activity of the Father and the Spirit, “as far as they [the disciples] could bear it.”

As the true image of the Father, Jesus makes God known and accessible to a degree unimaginable under the Old Covenant.  In Jesus’ teaching, God remains Creator, Lord, Judge, and Source of eternal salvation.  To this, however, Jesus adds a crucial element.  God is Father, not of the nation generally, but Jesus’ own Father, and thus ours as well.  That fatherhood is expressed with tenderness, mercy and compassion, as shown by the designation Abba.  This is the language of a child, a language of devotion and deep affection.  It is a language of love.

Within the New Testament God is characterized by three nouns: Spirit, Light and Love.  In his dialogue with the Samaritan woman (Jn 4), Jesus declares that “God is Spirit,” and he must therefore be worshiped in Spirit and in Truth.  Christ is himself the Truth (Jn 14:6).  The imagery he offers thus corresponds to the vision of St Irenaeus, for whom the Son and the Spirit are the “two hands of the Father.”  Prayer, in the final analysis is a divine activity that takes place within the depths of the heart.  The apostle Paul declares that we are simply unable to pray; it is the Spirit who prays within us, “with sighs too deep for words” (Rom 8:26).  The Spirit’s intercession on our behalf is complemented by the ongoing revelation of the Father by the Son.  Prayer – worship – is no mere human activity.  It is the work of God within the inner sanctuary, the temple of the human heart.  To worship in Spirit and in Truth is thus a profoundly Trinitarian act.  It is the very ground and realization of our deepest communion with God.

Then again, God is Light.  At the beginning of his epistle, the author of 1 John declares: “God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all” (1:5).  On the one hand, he is speaking against the hypocrisy that professes belief in God yet denies that belief by the refusal to love.  “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth…” (1:6).  “Darkness” in this perspective is an existential category; it defines one’s very way of being.  Moral corruption – or simple indifference to the needs of others – is more than an ethical issue.  To “walk in darkness” leads inevitably to what the Apocalypse calls “the second death,” an eternity of separation from the presence and love of God.  Yet “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another…” (1:7).  By opening his letter with the affirmation, “God is light,” the author of 1 John thus makes an appeal: commune with God in the light, or remain forever in the darkness of death and corruption.

This leads then to the third substantive that identifies the person and will of God: “God is Love” (1 Jn 4:7-12).  We have allowed this extraordinary affirmation to become banal, devoid of its significance, its power.  So often we lament the state of the world in which we live, with its violence, its pervasive suffering, and the inevitability of death.  But imagine what the world would be like if God were not “love”; if God were like the deformed pictures of him we associate with the Latin Middle Ages, images that persist today in virtually all forms of popular Christian piety.  This is the God of (self-) righteous judgment, the cosmic overlord, oppressive and even cruel, whose chief concern is to punish us for our sins by inflicting on us everything from personal agony to natural disasters.  But this God, once again, is a god who is “too small.”

To declare that God is Love, and to experience the depth and power of that love within the affairs of our daily life, is to attribute ultimate meaning to the smallest details and the most insignificant events of that life.  It is to find meaning in our personal suffering – meaning grounded in communion.  Meaning bestowed by the fact that we are never alone in our suffering, but that the Crucified One knows and shares that suffering with us to the bitter end.  In his letter to the Colossians (1:24), the apostle Paul declares, “I rejoice in my sufferings…, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, the Church.”  This is a remarkable, even troubling assertion.  How could anything be lacking in the self-offering of the crucified Son of God?  All that could possibly be lacking in Christ’s afflictions, in fact, is our participation in them.  And such participation is possible, it is conceivable, only because God in his very essence is “Love.”  If there is any communion possible with God, it is precisely because the God we worship and serve is above all – above every characteristic or qualification – a God of love.  God is Spirit, Light and Love; and the greatest of these….

Yet in Jesus’ teaching and in the experience of Christian people, God is also Judge, Ruler and Lord.  He is indeed the all-powerful One, who creates and governs all things.  He is the God of glory and majesty, who inspires fear and awe in the hearts of those who know him.  He is the omnipotent One, the God who calls us to account for our actions and attitudes, who weighs us in the balance and dispenses divine justice as he pleases.  In his hands lie the power and authority to lift us out of the sickness and corruption into which we have led ourselves, or to plunge us into the eternal darkness of death.  Like the Master of the vineyard or the Host at the wedding party of Jesus’ parables, God is the final Arbiter, the Judge at the last day, who has boundless authority over all things and all persons, to bestow life or to condemn to destruction all the works of his hands, including you and me.

These two aspects of God’s person and actions must be held together.  He is indeed Creator and Judge, Lord and Master of all that he has fashioned.  Yet Jesus’ teachings, with the entire witness of the Scriptures and Holy Tradition, make it clear that above all, God is Love – a boundless love, termed by the “Monk of the Eastern Church,” Fr Lev Gillet, a “Love without limits.”    This is Love that sacrifices itself upon the Cross, that penetrates to the very depths of Hell, to rescue and to save those who languish in death, waiting with desperate longing the coming of a Savior.  This is the Love that rescues us from ourselves, from our revolt against the Author of Life, the God of mercy and forgiveness.  Like God’s holiness, it is a Love that invites our participation.  “Be loved, and love in return.”  This is the command, the invitation extended by the God whose most perfect and most complete self-revelation is expressed as agapê, as the self-offering of him whom the Liturgy declares to be both priest and sacrifice, the Offerer and the Offered, the Receiver and the Received.  If we can indeed participate in him and in the love he embodies, it is only because he wills it to be so.  We are his children, the work of his hands.  And once again, to the astonishment of angels and demons alike, he loves us beyond all that we can imagine.

How do we achieve communion with God?  The question has only one answer.  Communion with God is necessarily “in Christ,” in the eternal Son of God, who became (a) man, in order to journey with us, to die for us, and to raise us up, so that we might share in his own glory.  The means by which we attain this state of transfiguring grace is remarkably simple, open to any and all, whatever their age, their background or their status in life.  That means is by baptism into Christ, and the baptismal existence that flows from it.

In Romans 6, St Paul begins his proclamation concerning baptism with a rhetorical question, answered by an imagery that associates in the most intimate way our rebirth and renewal with Christ’s own death and resurrection.  “Do you not know,” Paul asks, “that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

It is a commonplace today to say that what we dread most of all is the inevitable fact of our physical death.  Therefore we tend to do all we can to deny death, to cover it up with bizarre funeral practices (luxurious caskets, barely visible headstones, cemeteries referred to as “memorial gardens,” etc.).  In the United States those who attend a funeral outside the Orthodox tradition usually never witness the burial itself.  The earth is covered with a green rug, imitating grass; prayers are said around the gravesite; then everyone departs, leaving it to the workers to lower the casket and fill in the grave.  We commiserate for a while with the bereaved, and then we change the subject.  Death in this perspective remains the last enemy; death retains its sting.

This is especially tragic because it is so unnecessary.  It represents denial of and protection from a mirage.  This is because our actual death does not occur with the demise of the physical body.  It occurs precisely in baptism.  It is there, when we are plunged into the baptismal waters, that we enter with Christ both into the Jordan River and into the grave.  “We were buried with him,” the apostle declares.  “Co-buried with him,” the Greek text reads.  Through baptism we die.  And through baptism we live again.  To use Jesus’ language in his dialogue with Nicodemus, we are “born anew,” which also signifies “born from above” (anôthen).  Baptism means a new birth, a new creation, in which the old self, the First Adam, is transformed into the New Man, Christ.  We actually share in his baptism, just as we share in his death, finally to be received by him in the awesome victory of his resurrection.

Communion with God can be only in and through Christ.  This is true for Israel, for the Buddhist or Hindu or Muslim believer, just as it is for the Christian.  If the offer of salvation is extended to all mankind, then it is realized in the life of any particular person by Christ and in Christ, whether or not the person is consciously aware of that truth.  Every human being is created in the image of God and bears that image into eternity.  Therefore the potential exists for every one, without exception, to know and experience what we term “salvation.”  How that potential may be realized in the life of anyone who does not share in Christ’s baptism and in an active Christian faith is a mystery we can only leave in the hands of God.  As for us, it is enough to accept the invitation to share in Christ’s suffering and death, so that we might share as well in his risen life and glory.

Baptism marks the moment of our death, as it does of our rebirth (palingenesis, Tit 3:5) our entry into a “newness of life.”  Yet as the Church Fathers insisted, that event involves us in a “synergy,” a life of “cooperation” with God, a sharing in his suffering and death for the life of the world.  Baptism, then, must bear fruit.  It is not enough to profess a certain belief, to recite the Credo, to be baptized, and to attend services of the Church.  The sacramental act requires not only participation in Christ’s death and resurrection.  It also involves us in the works of love that he himself performs within our lives and in the lives of others.  As we die and rise with Christ, so we “die” with others, in order that they might rise with him and in him.  This means sharing with them the content of our faith, insofar as it is appropriate to do so (there is no place in Orthodoxy for proselytism, for example).  But it means also that we share our sweat and blood with them and for them, as Christ did for us.  Baptism becomes reality in our life only insofar as it leads us to an ongoing and genuine imitatio Christi.

Between Christ’s baptism and ours there is an essential reciprocity.  Jesus enters the Jordan waters in order to share fully in our humanity, to identify with us by symbolizing our death and offering a prophetic image of our resurrection.  And we are baptized into him, into his Body, the Church, of which he is Lord and Head.  As he died and rose for us, so we die and rise with him and in him.  That baptismal reciprocity means that we now share so fully in his life, death and resurrection that we can declare with St Paul, “It is no longer I who live; it is Christ who lives in me!” (Gal 2:20).

If there is reciprocity in the new creation effected by baptism, the same is true with crucifixion.  Jesus declares, “If any one would come after me, let him take up his cross and follow me” (Mk 9:34).  This is the cross of suffering and death.  In the first instance, it is the cross on which Jesus, the Innocent One, died, nailing to that cross the writ of condemnation against us for our sinful rebellion toward the divine will and purpose (Col 2:14).  Jesus accepted unimaginable suffering, in order to share our suffering to the bitter end.  Not to eliminate it, but to share in it.  Here again there is reciprocity.  He who suffered and died on our behalf calls us to suffer with him.  He summons us to “take up our cross” and to complete his work for the salvation of human kind and of the entire creation.  He alone effects salvation: only God can save us; we cannot save ourselves.  Yet our participation in his suffering is an indispensable element in his saving work.

Not long ago I spoke with a woman who, as a child, was the victim of severe ritual abuse.  She still bears in her flesh the marks of the torture she endured, and this has left an indelible imprint on her mind and spirit, as well as on her body.  “Why,” we mused together, “is this kind of misery necessary?  Why do some people have to bear so much greater a burden than others?”  Why, in other words, is her cross so heavy?  Why is her struggle in following Christ to his crucifixion such a palpable and inescapable reality in her day-to-day existence?  As we talked about all this, something of immense importance became clear to her.  Why has Christ called her to bear such a heavy burden?  Because he needs her; he deems her worthy, to carry a greater portion of his own cross than most people can manage.  She has come to “take up her cross daily” by dint of her courage, her faith, and her love for her Lord.  And this she could do, and continues to do, because she has become aware of a truth all of us need to know: that the cross Christ calls us to bear is none other than his own cross, borne for the life of the world.  This woman, this wounded and scarred child of God, is victorious in her relentless suffering precisely because she has assimilated her cross to the cross of Christ.  And like the story of the single set of footprints in the sand, she has come to realize that there is no burden, no suffering she can know – there is no cross she will ever bear – that Christ does not bear with her and for her.  “Take up your cross,” Jesus says – “and know that I make your cross my own, that I bear it in your stead and will continue to bear it, until the very end.”

How do we achieve a life of communion with God?  By assimilating our life and our death to the life and death of Christ.  By journeying with him, day in and day out, along the pathway to Golgotha; by sharing in his suffering and death through our own personal suffering and by bearing the suffering of others.  We achieve communion with God by releasing every pain, every source of anguish, into the hands of Christ, who, in the words of Pascal, “is in agony until the end of the world.”  That agony is borne for our sakes.  It is a gift, an ineffable gift, of God’s love for us, his poor, unworthy, yet beloved children.

Communion with God, then, is not simply the fruit of prayer, sacramental gestures and a lived faith, as essential as each of those is in Christian life.  It also entails taking up our cross – that is, assuming the weight of the cross of Christ – in order to share fully in his life, death and glorification.  It means suffering with him as he suffered for us, in order that through that witness of shared pain and anguish, those around us might behold the fullness and the wonder of the love of God.  Such love is expressed and fulfilled above all in the Person who remains for all time “the Crucified One.”  This is the expression used by the angel in his address to the myrrhbearing women at the Empty Tomb:  “You seek Jesus of Nazareth,” he declares, “the Crucified One (ton estaurômenon).  He is not here, he is risen!” (Mk 16:6 and par.)  Even after his resurrection, Jesus is identified as “the Crucified One,” who bears his cross for our salvation until the end of the world.

No God who is “too small” can achieve what God himself has wrought.  The God who is truly God ultimately lies enshrouded in divine Darkness.  When he makes himself known, he evokes nothing less than awe, a holy dread before the ineffable mystery of his being and power.  Language used of him, like prayer itself, must ultimately resolve into silence, the silence St Isaac of Nineveh termed “the language of the world to come.”  It is in that silence, that inner stillness of the heart, that we can ascend the holy mountain, to stand with fear and trembling in the glory of his presence.  Fear and trembling nevertheless become transformed into joy and gladness, once the awesome God reveals himself to be not only a consuming fire, but also an inexhaustible wellspring of tenderness, compassion and love.

This dual image of awesome power and humble weakness, of absolute authority and suffering love, is made known and becomes accessible to us in the person of Jesus Christ, the Father’s eternal Son.  It is through Christ and through his voluntary death on the cross that you and I are able to commune with God, in our present existence as well as in the world to come.  We have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us.  He lives in us, to make known to us the only reality, the only truth that finally matters: that we are even now enfolded in God’s eternal embrace, and are invited to enter into blessed communion with him, to share forever in all the beauty and glory, all the peace and joy, of his divine life.