The Light of Christ Enlightens All! – Homily on Friday of the Third Week of Lent

Special thanks to Felix Culpa for his superb scrutiny of this translation!

The light of Christ enlightens all!

One of the most significant liturgical actions of the Great Fast takes place when, between the Old Testament readings, the Royal Doors are suddenly opened, the serving clergyman appears with a candle and censer and, making the sign of the cross with them over those present, exclaims: The light of Christ enlightens all! It is not surprising that all those present bow their head to the ground at this moment, for the opening of the Royal Doors represents the opening of the very heavens; the candle and censer signify the fullness of the Holy Spirit; and the appearance of the serving clergyman is like the appearance of an Angel from heaven. Who could be so arrogant as not to bow down before these signs of the grace of God?

The Holy Church, however, seeks from us at this instance not simply a bow of the head or a prostration before the light of Christ. No, in the spiritual sense, it wants the opposite: the bowing of our head before that light, the opening before it of our entire essence, so that in this way we might be illumined with that divine light from head to foot, be completely filled with it, and made light-bearing, just as were the first Christians, about whom the Apostle Paul writes that they shine as lights in the world (Phil. 2:15).

In order better to enter the Holy Church’s intention, let us look at the power and significance of the words pronounced by the serving clergyman.

The light of Christ enlightens all!

These words suggest, firstly, the insufficiency in us all of the true light. For, if we were light-filled in and of ourselves, we would have no need for enlightenment. Truly, a person not illumined by the Gospel is darkness, deep darkness, as St. Paul teaches. Those who are illumined by the light of science and are called “enlightened” by people would not immediately agree with this. This is because these people who have studied the sciences, due to their hope in the scintillation that the sciences pour upon them, rarely and insufficiently turn their attention to the inner state of their spirit and heart, not seeing in what darkness their soul and conscience are. If, however, they were to look deeply into the quality of their knowledge and, on the other hand, would attentively delve into the true needs of their soul, then they would soon begin to see that the light borrowed from the sciences, no matter how great it might be, is hardly enough to satisfy them; and that, in relation to some of the most important things, the ignorance of which, one might say, makes one less than human, they are as ignorant as the lowest commoner; therefore, exactly like the commoner, they need to be enlightened from above.

The light of Christ enlightens all!

These words, secondly, suggest the fullness and abundance for everyone of the light of Christ. Indeed, there is no deficiency of it for anyone. It enlightens both the wisest, revealing to them the mysteries of the Kingdom of God which no mind in and of itself can open; and the most foolish, opening in them, instead of a natural intellect, the eyes of the heart, with which they can see what is hidden from the wise and knowledgeable of this world. It enlightens both the richest, teaching them not to exalt in perishable goods, not to be rich in themselves but in God, and to hide their treasure where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal (Matt. 6:20); and the poorest, showing them their riches inside themselves, which are more valuable than the whole world, and teaching them to be poor not only in body but also in spirit, in order to acquire the Kingdom. It enlightens also the very highest ruler, reminding him that there is a Master over him Who demands a strict accounting for every tear shed because of him; and the very lowest servant, comforting him in the knowledge that no one can take away from him his internal freedom of spirit and conscience, and that a virtuous man in bonds is higher than the happiest person in the world and closer to the Savior Who, being the Son of God, for our sake took on the appearance, not of a king, but of a slave and servant of all. It enlightens elders, revealing to them a life that does not age, calling them from earthly wandering to a place where there is rest from every labor. It enlightens youths, encouraging them to battle with the passions and lusts. It enlightens infants, opening their lips to praise the Lord.

The light of Christ enlightens all!

Pronouncing these words through the mouth of its servant, the Holy Church says, as it were: “Perhaps there are those who, due to their lot at birth or the circumstances of life, being far from the light of the sciences and earthly wisdom, blame their supposedly miserable situation, thinking that they, having only their native wit, are not able, like enlightened men, to achieve the aims of their existence, and must forever remain behind them, not only in time, but even in eternity. May they not vainly despair and lose courage! The One Who in the sensible world hung the sun and moon in the heavens so they would illumine all equally, the same One did not forget in the spiritual world also to pour out light for the enlightenment of all without exception. Attending church, hearing the Gospel, prophets, and apostles, no matter whether you are a farmer or soldier, a child or an elder, a servant or a laborer, you will learn everything that you need for your salvation, and to enter eternity, where we all must go, prepared for your great calling.”

The light of Christ enlightens all!

“Perhaps some,” the Church says, as it were, “having been filled with the light from the lamp of science and earthly wisdom, imagine that they do not need any further enlightenment, that they know everything that they need, and can calmly rest with their reserve of knowledge. May they leave behind their dangerous prejudice until they have studied the Gospel and the Cross of Christ, until they have properly comprehended what the prophets and apostles say about man, until they know that which is most essential! Only in the light of Christ can one see God, oneself, and the world in their true appearance. Only according to the indication of heavenly revelation can one find the path leading to eternal life.”

The light of Christ enlightens all!

“Therefore,” it is as if the Church says, “each and everyone needs to walk in the light and do deeds of the light. A poor pagan can say that he did not know how to behave in the world, for he did not have a Gospel in hand; but the Christian is without an excuse! The light of Christ illumined everything for him, showing him his own poverty, and the richness of God’s mercy towards him; our past condition in paradise, and the future condition in the Heavenly Kingdom; the narrow path leading to eternal life, and the broad path leading to perdition; the power of the cross of Christ, and the necessity of bearing one’s own cross. Everything has been illumined, opened, and shown to everyone forever! Therefore everyone must walk in the light, avoid deeds of darkness, and not give themselves up to sleep and carelessness.”

This, my brothers, is the sense of the sacred words: The light of Christ enlightens all! The Church repeats them for both our instruction and our warning.

After this it is our task to examine ourselves and discover in which light we are in life: that of Christ or of someone else? Whatever light it is, if it is not of Christ, then for our eternal salvation it is as good as darkness, and even sometimes worse than darkness. For a man caught in the darkness at least either stops or goes slowly groping his way, taking care, if he can, to step into the light. But under a false light a person is calm, goes along without stopping, allowing himself every kind of movement, changing paths and directions; and, inasmuch as he is led by a false light, like a swimmer at sea, he is exposed to inevitable dangers or goes somewhere from which there is no return. Is this not the same as happens with many intelligent people who, placing their hope in worldly wisdom, scorn the light of Christ? Where do they go, and where do they lead those who follow them? They go and lead others to such an abyss of impiety and vice that one glance into it fills with trembling the heart that has not lost its human feeling.

Beware, my brothers, of this false light, which in our times has especially begun to blind the eyes of many. Remember firmly that Christ alone is our true light, which enlightens every man coming into the world and going out of the world. If you meet a teacher, first try to learn of what light he is. If the light is not of Christ, then no matter who he is, block your ears and heart. For just as in the sensible world there is one sun and no other light besides it, so too in the spiritual world there is one true and life-giving light: our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to Whom be glory, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

St. Innocent (Borisov), Archbishop of Kherson

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