I mentioned in a recent post that I had discovered a "preview" scan of Select Sermons by the late Metropolitan of Moscow, Philaret (London, 1893) at Google Book Search. I have typeset as much of the following Paschal sermon, the sixth sermon in the volume, (pp 68-81) as can be read online. Unfortunately it is missing two pages in the middle (pp 73-74) and the last four pages (pp 78-81). (Perhaps if a reader has access to this volume he could scan the missing pages, and I could add them to the text below). Even though this sermon is incomplete, it is still well worthy of your attention. St Philaret of Moscow was the indisputable master of Russian homelitics, and this eloquent English translation captures his style well.
Christ is Risen!
“Then opened He their understanding” (Lk 24:45)
HOW many chambers are unlocked, how many doors are opened this day, by the Key of David alone, and with but one turn of it!
The doors of a house are strengthened and fastened to keep out thieves, or to restrain a turbulent inmate. So is it in the House of GOD. When the tiller and keeper of the paradise of GOD plucked the fruit of the tree of knowledge, then was he driven out, paradise was closed against him, and a guard mightier than he, armed with a flaming sword, was placed at the entrance. Moreover, since it behooved the transgressor to be also punished – since, even after his banishment, a turbulent, criminal spirit still continued to live in his seed, therefore both he and his posterity were one after the other conveyed through the gate of death to prison, there to be held captive, not for days only, but for ages. Hence is it also self-evident how the very house of the LORD, that is, heaven, to which the way lay through the garden of Eden, was barred and closed against the unworthy inmate.
At length, the only-begotten SON of the LORD of heaven, according to His mercy, and His love toward man, comes to free the captives, and to bring the banished. The Key of David, unlocking all doors, is the Incarnation of JESUS CHRIST, whereby as the Divinity shares all the conditions of humanity, so also does humanity partake of the nature of Divinity. The revealing action of this key is the Resurrection of CHRIST. By it the prison doors are opened, and its captives released; paradise is opened and receives the banished; Heaven is opened and awaits the Elect. What I now say in your hearing, the same does the Church speak unto your eyes by keeping open, throughout the whole of the present feast, the doors leading to the altar of the Divine sacraments.
Let us also take notice of another door which this same Key of David, and at the very same time, openeth; a door not very large, perhaps, but one which leads to the great treasury of GOD: “Then opened He their understanding,” writes the holy Evangelist. Then opened the LORD the understanding of His Apostles. When was this? when He had risen from the dead, appeared unto them, showed them His wounds, broken bread in their presence, when He had fully confirmed their faith in His Resurrection: “Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures; and said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved CHRIST to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His Name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” [Lk 34:45-47].
May, then, the understanding of all who now hear this, be opened to receive the important truth now being revealed unto us, that the resurrection of CHRIST, and faith in that resurrection, opens the locked up human intellect unto the true understanding of sublime and saving truths.
And truly, how long it is since “JESUS began to preach and to say, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” [Mt 4:17]. And earlier than others did the Apostles begin to listen to that preaching. How long it is since they themselves were sent out on the same mission of preaching: “And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand” [Mt 10:7]. Thus for a long time did they both listen to the preaching of repentance and the kingdom of GOD, and preach it themselves. But still their understanding was yet locked up. This is hardly credible; and yet, according to the word of the Lord, it is true. It was not till after His Resurrection that “He opened their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures;” and it was to persons already understanding that He said unto them, “Thus it is that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His Name.”
Till then they knew of repentance as of a deed of faith; now do they more fully understand repentance in the name of Jesus to be the spirit and power of it. They had known repentance more in the sense of a necessity and a duty: now do they more perfectly understand its fruit and reward – the remission of sins. Then they were able to preach that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. Now they can bear witness of its actual manifestation unto themselves and in themselves. At how early a period also, how frequently, and how minutely did the LORD foretell His Passion and His Resurrection to His Apostles! At times He veiled this prophecy in parables – as, for instance, when He said to the Jews: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will rise it up” [Jn 2:19]. But even His parable on this subject was at times as intelligible as a plain statement, as when He said: “For as Jonas was three days and three in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” [Mt 12:40].
But this is not all. It was thus that He spoke to strangers in the presence of the Apostles, but to the Apostles themselves He more than once spoke of this not in parables, but plainly, precisely, in detail, as – “Behold, we go to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the Prophets concerning the Son of Man shall be accomplished. For He shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on: and they shall scourge Him, and put Him to death, and the third day He shall rise again” [Lk 28:31-33].
Could any one speak more plainly? Does it seem possible not to understand this? And you will probably say, did they really not understand it? The holy Evangelist foresaw this doubt, and assures us with particular emphasis, that they really did not understand it.
“They,” that is to say the Apostles, “understand none of these things, and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken.”
Another Evangelist relates, that on one occasion the Apostles hearing from the LORD of His resurrection, were so perplexed at His words, that they stopped at them as before an inexplicable parable, and disputed among themselves as to their meaning. “And they kept that saying with themselves, questioning one with another what the rising from the dead should mean” [Mk 9:10].
It is said, “In Thy light, O LORD, shall we see light” [Ps 35:9].
The structure of the bodily eye is not adapted to many kinds or degrees of light, for a certain diminution of light deprives it of the power of vision, and in like manner a certain increase of light blinds it. The structure of the mind, as a spiritual organ, is incomparably more extensive and varied. One and the same human mind may become either a power of vision, and of which light deprives it; or a beast, which by the light of the moon and stars prowls about in search of its prey; or else, as is natural to man, it can do its work in the light of day, and contemplate the manifold beauties of the universe. It sinks, and is then imprisoned in the sphere of sensuality; it rises, and becomes itself capable of spiritual light, it becomes purified and then open to the reception of the divine light.
For those who would see spiritual objects, it surely is not enough to open their fleshly eyes, or to light a lamp of material light. The more elevated the objects to be contemplated, the more sublime should be the condition of the eye, and of the light which serves as the medium of vision. Consequently to contemplate divine objects, we need a divine light, and a condition of the mind in harmony therewith. “In Thy light, O LORD, shall we see light.”
The Word of GOD, the mysteries of the kingdom of GOD, the saving doctrine and the saving works of CHRIST are surely divine objects, therefore to contemplate them clearly and purely, man is in need of a divine light, the light of CHRIST, the light of the HOLY SPIRIT, and the opening of his understanding by the power of that light. So long as this has not been accomplished in man, so long is he unable to comprehend the compass, height, and depth of the Word of GOD, though he may hear it, and even see its effect; for his spiritual eye still abides in the lower region of natural light, and is adapted to it alone. For this reason the Apostles even after seeing with their bodily eyes the resurrection of the widow of Nain’s son, could not yet rise to the contemplation and solution of the question, “What the rising of the dead should mean” [Mk 9:10]. For this reason did the LORD say to the Apostles, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now” [Jn 16:12]. When then, O LORD, will they be able to bear Thy word and to understand Thy works? His answer is, “Howbeit, when He, the Spirit of Truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth” [Jn 16:13]. But what prevents the Spirit of Truth from coming sooner? Again the Gospel tells us, “The HOLY GHOST was not yet given, because that JESUS was not yet Glorified” [Jn 7:39]. At length He rises from the dead. And now instead of Divinity in Him sinking into humanity, as it did till now, humanity in Him rises unto Divinity. In this way His humanity is manifested, and superabundantly filled no longer with a hidden, but rather with the manifest light of the Godhead which it diffuses around itself; the God-Man appears as the Sun of mankind, and begins to part the clouds an darkness which encompassed humanity; His divine light strikes those eyes, which faith in His resurrection had already opened and directed to contemplation, opens them still more and raises them to a new, heavenly, divine perception or understanding of the Word of GOD and the works of GOD. “Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand.”
If this opening of the understanding or spiritual enlightenment appear to be sudden and unexpected, it must not seem strange, but rather a property of light, and particularly of spiritual light. The sun when he rises reveals a whole universe of varied beauties; is it then wonderful that the light of grace, the light of the HOLY GHOST, whose action on the heart the Apostle likes “to a day dawning and the day-star rising” [2 Pet 1:19], should suddenly and unexpectedly reveal the boundless region of spiritual understanding. Howbeit natural light as well as light divine has for those whom it enlightens its own dawn and its noontide; for the Apostles a bright dawn arose when the LORD “breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the HOLY GHOST” [Jn 20:22].