Dear brothers and sisters,
Greetings, as we celebrate the Appearance of the Kazan Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos in 1579, when, after the devastating fire which destroyed much of the city, the Most Holy Mother of God revealed the location of her wondrous icon in the ashes of a ruined house.
We should rejoice in the fact that the All-Merciful Lord chose a child to be the herald of the good-tidings of the Wonder-Working Icon; that the Mother of God revealed the treasure of her icon not to a cleric, a monastic, a state officer, or an educated or respected dignitary, but rather to a nine-year-old, whose mind was not filled with worldly ‘learning’, facts, knowledge and theories; but, a girl blessed with a child’s simplicity and trust, and a heart and soul overflowing with faith and the fear of God.
This reminds us that spiritual encounter and true gnosis is not simply dependent on learning and education – important though they may be – but that knowledge and faith begin with God in Divine Revelation, and that faith is the gift of God, not the achievement of man.
For the young Matrona, Faith was learned from Church services; from the readings and hymns of the seasons of the year, with its feasts and fasts; from the sacred icons, and the stories narrated and saints memorialised in them; from hearing the lives of the saints which even the illiterate knew by heart; by experiencing, listening and seeing; in short by PARTICIPATION and EXPERIENCE.
But, in addition to this, this feast reminds us of the importance of REVELATION and Matrona’s part in the events of this feast is solely because God and the Mother of God freely chose her, to be the recipient.
“God is the Lord, and has revealed Himself to us.” We believe this, but we so often take such an anthropocentric approach to faith that we forget that God is the source of both faith and knowledge. We begin to see the process starting with us, with our bookshelves, reading, study and catechism classes, and the revelatory aspect of faith fades. Put simply, we begin to understand faith back-to-front. Faith begins with revelation, so faith and knowledge necessarily begin with God.
In our daily services we pray: “Blessed are Thou, O Lord, teach me Thy statutes. Blessed are Thou, O Master, grant me understanding of Thy statutes. Blessed are Thou, O Holy One, grant me understanding of Thy statutes.”
This revelation is part of our personal relationship with the Living God, and though we may read and study dogmatics and theological treatises, spiritual-understanding is ultimately a gift from God – Who, if He so wishes can totally bypass all of the usual channels and mechanics of learning.
We read and hear the stories of God-Bearing ascetics whom others presumed to be highly educated, as they ably expounded the teachings of the dogmatic and ascetical Fathers, and great swathes of the Philokalia. Those who knew the ascetics explained the truth – that these men had not been schooled, were sometimes illiterate, and had never possessed, let alone read a book. Rather, through asceticism and pure prayer, they acquired the Mind of Christ, and in that Mind and through the Divine Encounter, Truth was opened and revealed to them.
What do we sing in the Beatitudes, the third antiphon of the Liturgy? “Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God”… the pure in heart, not the learned, educated and knowledgeable.
God does not need university degrees and accolades of higher education, but purity and openness to faith. This is how the fishermen were made most-wise, and became theologians who knew (rather than knew about) the Incarnate-God, who revealed Himself to them in the purity of their hearts and minds.
The Lord reveals Himself to the pure in heart, and no matter how educated we are, without striving for that purity we can have no experiential knowledge of God: no personal encounter, but can only know about Him, rather than knowing Him. For those of great sanctity, their purity is enough, and within it, God may reveal all things.
As we celebrate Divine Revelation in this feast, how ironic it was that the authorities scoffed at the child chosen by the Mother of God, so that Matrona and her mother had to dig themselves to find the sacred treasure; how those in authority looked down on a mere child, refusing to believe her and dismissing her claim; and how they insulted God in not considering the possibility that He might chose a mere child as the herald of revelation.
But through all of this, God and the Theotokos teach us a salutary lesson by choosing a child.
What does Christ tell us? “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
This is the upside-down-ness of the Gospel at work, yet so many people are still far from grasping this.
The example of the child, Matrona should encourage us to struggle to preserve child-like innocence and trust in God in our Christian lives; recognising that God is the source of knowledge and Faith, no matter how much or how hard we read and study, and that although it is important for us to deepen our knowledge of Faith, true knowledge and understanding are ultimately a gift of God, and not the fruit of learning.
Revelation does not depend upon our intellectual abilities, depth of learning or theological knowledge. We remain powerless and reliant on God, the Source of all wisdom, knowledge and understanding.
For our catechumens, still learning and perhaps with gaps in knowledge; for our newly baptised, at the beginning of the journey of Faith; for those who feel that others are for more knowledgeable or educated than them – this feast is a challenge and an encouragement.
Trust in God as the source of knowledge and Truth, and work with Him to acquire true knowledge. Be active in seeking to learn His statutes, but by trusting in Him and not in your own ability.
And as we strive for the understanding of the Law of God, let us heed the Paschal Canon’s words, “Let us purify our senses and we shall behold Christ, radiant with inaccessible light of the Resurrection, and shall hear Him saying clearly, “Rejoice!” As we sing the triumphant hymns!”
Let us – with our busy, complicated, worrisome and temptation-clouded lives – strive for child-like purity, simplicity and trust, so that we may not only seek Him, but have Him reveal His truth unto us, and by becoming like little children, enter into the Kingdom of heaven.