1st Sun of Lent, Sun of Orthodoxy, John1:43-51 “Calling of Nathanael”
This is the first Sunday of Great Lent and the Sunday of Orthodoxy. Today we celebrate the decision of the 7th Ecumenical Council in 787, establishing the honorable place of icons in the Church. At the Synod of 843 It was decreed that every first Sunday of Lent, the entire Church should continue to hold this procession in celebration. And so we are now continuing in the eleven hundred and seventy sixth (1176th) consecutive Orthodox Sunday with the rest of the Orthodox Church worldwide. A rather recently established feast in Orthodox history terms. We will process around the church, immediately after Liturgy.
On the first Sunday of Lent we are also given the reading for the calling of Nathanael by Philip. “Come and See” is the theme that rings out in this gospel reading. Philip has just been summoned by Christ. “Follow Me” he tells Philip and he becomes His disciple. St. Philip immediately gets it. The Spirit of God pierces his heart, illuminating it with the blessed knowledge that “this is Him of whom Moses in the law and the prophets wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” His first thought is to gather his dear friend Nathanael.
How does Nathanael respond to Philip’s claim that he has found the Messiah who all of Israel has been waiting for? “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip’s answer was brilliant and one which we should all take note of. “Come and see.”
Philip didn’t get into a theological debate. He didn’t trot out his case as to why he was so convinced that he had found the Messiah. Really, how could he? This was a deep mysterious and sacramental change of the heart, not an intellectual conclusion based on the brilliance of his study. He had simply encountered Christ and responded to His call “Come, follow Me.”
When you know something this deeply, this completely, something of such eternal and precious value, how can you communicate this truth to another? How was it communicated to you? Was it really the Eureka at the end of a long torturous and convoluted search of mathematical logical computations? Or did you just have the grace of God settle into the deepest hidden place of your heart? Kind of sneak in past your defences and seep into that secret part of your soul that was still soft enough to give it a home. This is our calling, not to argue and attempt to drag people into the Kingdom by the shear force of our intellect. Destroying their simplistic beliefs so we can prove to them that they are wrong and need to listen to us. No, rather than trying to destroy their present understanding, we should try to show them how God has been with them all along and longs to come and be more fully present in their hearts. Remember He is “Everywhere present and filling all things.” We are simply to invite our friends and family to “Come and see.” God is the one who brings them to Himself and heals the brokenhearted and frees the captives. We simply invite those we love to come and see for themselves. To taste and see that the Lord is good. To open their hearts and allow Him to love them with more love than we ourselves can even comprehend.
Of course, it all does make complete and eternal sense, as it is complete and eternal truth we are dealing with. The problem is that when we attempt to explain the truths of the Kingdom to one who has no understanding of Kingdom reality, it often turns into a clash of cultures. The culture of the world, the culture of our society is very alien to the culture of the kingdom of God. It is built upon falsehoods that are promoted by the devious architect known as the “father of lies,” Satan himself. (Eph:6:12) “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” These principalities and powers are the demon generals and sergeants, in place over our particular countries and cities in service to the enemy. They are quite organized in their attack but utterly defeated by the cross of Christ. We here in North America and Europe had for many decades a society that was commonly understood to be built on generally Christian principles. It was a long way from being perfect in this regard, but even when I was growing up, Christian principles were considered to be the foundation, and generally accepted as good and proper. This is no longer the case, and increasingly we are leaving a Christian understanding of morality behind. Truth is arbitrary, your understanding of truth is as valid as the next person’s even when they are diametrically opposed. The greatest sin is now to insist that there is a moral standard, knowable truth, to be dogmatic in your position.
I am not saying this as any kind of great revelation or even really to complain that our society is now becoming increasingly more anti-Christian. Historically a Christian society is quite an anomaly. Just read the lives of the saints and martyrs throughout every century and civilization. No, when we compare ourselves to what is probably more normal in the history of the world, we are certainly no worse off than most eras, and considerably better off than most even in recent history with the millions of martyrs in the communist era, the slaughter of the Armenian Christians in the Turkish genocide and horrors of the Hitler era. It is likely things will continue to deteriorate in our country regarding Christian values, but our job is to trust God in all things.
I bring up this clash of the Christian and secular culture simply to highlight the wisdom shown to us by Philip in addressing Nathanael in today’s gospel. “Come and see.” When we engage in arguments and debates, we are greatly handicapped, as those who have not been brought up with a Christian perspective will not be able to relate. We will be speaking a different language with very different understandings of the very terms we are using. Rather than arguing, simply smile and love them and ask them to “Come and see for themselves.” This is how the Church grows. This is how we reach out to the non-Christian society around us. God will work in the hearts of those who come to Him seeking truth and healing. But they need us to invite and introduce them to the Church. Not to argue or proselytize, to win them for God. God is with us, He is here present in a very real and accessible way at St. Aidan’s He is tangibly present at our Liturgies and services. When we come and open our hearts here, He touches us, filling us with the understanding of His reality, like Philip, or like Nathanael when he encountered Christ face to face after “coming to see” at the invitation of his good and faithful friend Philip,
Nathanael, like many of our neighbors here in the East Kootenays, is someone who has been diligently searching. He is deeply concerned about truth. He is educated, knows the scriptures, and is certainly not gullible. We could sum up this personality type as a hard nosed “show me don’t tell me” type. Christ seems to endorse this fierce honesty as he also told our dear “doubting Thomas he was blessed as he had now seen. He now says to Nathanael when they first meet, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in who there is no deceit.” In response to Nathaniel’s question “How do You know me?” Jesus says, “Before Philip called you, when you were still under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathaniel in awe replies “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
This Sounds a lot like the response that Peter gives to Jesus much later, just before the Transfiguration, close to the end of His earthly ministry, when Peter says, (Matt:16:16) “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” So did Nathaniel understand upon meeting Jesus the first time what it took St. Peter almost 3 years to get? No, we see from Christ’s response to Nathaniel the difference. “Most assuredly, I say to you, Hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” He immediately begins to teach Nathaniel by correcting his vision, his perspective of the most important “truth” there is. Christ is not the earthly “king of Israel.” He is the Lord and Creator of all that exists, not even just all humans, but the entire cosmos and all of creation. Peter realized this truth and that before him stood God – “True God of True God.” This is where we must all start as infants in our Christian walk. Once we start to get this awareness planted deep inside our entire being, we can move on. “Fear (awe – indescribable wonder) of God is the beginning of knowledge.” This knowledge then allows us to be filled with true humility and start the journey back to sanity, where we realize there is only one proper response for us human creatures – thanksgiving and worship.
God fills those searching for Him, with the sure knowledge that He is with us. God is everywhere present and filling all things so I am not suggesting that He can only be found here at church. He most certainly is here and coming to Church goes a long way toward preparing us to receive Him, especially in receiving His very body and blood in communion. But as the fathers tell us “We know were God is, we can not say where He is not.”
The main reason your friends and neighbors and school and work mates will consider accepting your invitation to “come and see” is because they have sensed something about you they can trust – that something is of course really someone, our dear Lord Jesus Christ. But when we invite someone to come, and they come here to see for themselves, they have already opened their heart to receiving God. In accepting the invitation, they are asking God to come and reveal Himself to them. He is a good God who loves us and all of mankind, and He will surely respond to the cry of their hearts. So, let us learn this valuable lesson from Philip, let us apply it also to ourselves as we celebrate the Pre-sanctified Liturgies where the communion hymn is “O Taste and see how good the Lord is.” Let us also remember to always open our hearts also, to “taste and see.” Glory to Jesus Christ!