His Grace, Bishop JOSEPH’s Homily for the Consecration of
St. Andrew Orthodox Church, Riverside, California
Saturday, December 3, 2011
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Beloved hierarch and brother in Christ, Your Grace, Bishop BENJAMIN; the Right Reverend, Very Reverend, and Reverend Fathers; the Deacons in Christ; venerable monastics; the believers of St. Andrew Church; and all the visitors, supporters, benefactors and faithful gathered for the consecration of this Holy and magnificent house:
This morning you have witnessed the consecration of this House of the Lord. In the opening words of the troparion of consecration we hear: “Thou hast shown the earthly beauty of the Holy Tabernacle of Thy glory to be like unto the splendor of the heavenly firmament, O Lord.”
The beauty of the church-temple is an incarnation of the beauty of God; all things “good and beautiful” are manifest in their noblest features and characteristics when they are imbued with Divine Grace. The ancient criterion of the arts and sciences as expressed by the Greeks is this: τό καλόν κ'αγαθόν, “the beautiful and the good.” Is not this criterion brought to utmost fulfillment in the Holy Church where everything creaturely is elevated to finest expression? Our universal view of all creation—human and all other creatures—invites such an elevation and beautification. Ecclesiastical art in fabric, paint, song, and architecture expresses what we can call our universality of beauty. And what is this beauty? Is it not the Divine Beauty expressed in human art, including the Divinely beautiful church where we celebrate the Eucharist? It is there, where the people of God gather to pray, and above all, to celebrate the Holy Eucharist.
The beauty of the House of God has always been deeply connected with the beauty and faithfulness of the people who enter it to pray and to worship. The Prophet Ezekiel expressed his sorrow over the people’s alienation from God, through the word from the Lord Himself, “…My sanctuary… the delight of your eyes and the desire of your soul” (Ezekiel 24:21) which would be destroyed due to the Old Testament people’s unfaithfulness. The prophet spoke so clearly concerning the Temple of old, under the Law; and St. Stephen spoke of it as well. “God does not dwell in houses made by hands” (Acts 7:48), which shows that even the least of the New Testament church-houses is superior, because they hold the living Church, the Body of Christ, of which you are all members! This boast means that the beauty of the church is not separable from the interior beauty, the spiritual beauty, of the People of God who enter it and pray there!
How great was the joy of the consecration of our Mother Church, the Anastasis-Church in Jerusalem, so soon after the Great Persecution! We still celebrate the annual memorial of that consecration and draw a great deal of the hymns and scriptural readings from that consecration of old into the service of every succeeding consecration. As the Vesperal hymns for consecrations express, “It is an ancient and excellent law to honor festivals of consecration; nay, rather, to honor things new by festivals of consecration… the Churches from the nations, now inaugurated and established, have access to God.”
“Be ye consecrated, O brethren, and putting off the old man, walk ye in the newness of life… thus is a man consecrated; thus is the day of consecration honored.”
The church-building presents a message in architecture: the very shape of this church is a large Cross, showing Christ’s sacrifice for the human race. The domes depict “an earthly heaven,” showing how God, although still enthroned in the heavens, came down to man in order to elevate him. A thousand years ago, the emissaries from Prince Vladimir of Kiev thought they were in heaven when they entered the Church of Holy Wisdom in Constantinople. There, within, they heard the singing, they saw the iconography, they witnessed in the very architecture the Holy Gospel: “we could not tell whether we were in heaven or on earth.”
So now the Holy Church presents a face toward the world, for every eye to see, and to take delight in. This Temple houses the people, ο λαός, “the laity,” who are the pious faithful and who “grow into a Holy Temple in the Lord” (Eph 2:21), the very Body of Christ, the Temple made without hands, the living heaven on earth, a heavenly Jerusalem, an earthly Abode of God! The prophet Ezekiel pined away in his sorrow over the demise of the glory of the old Sanctuary, due to the Old Testament people’s unfaithfulness. But now, a new Bride of the Lord is come into being, the Church of the Nations which is “glorious in all the earth.” We say it in the kontakion of the consecration, “The Church is shown to be a many-lighted heaven that doth shine a guiding light upon all them that do believe; wherein while standing, we cry aloud: Do Thou Thyself now establish this house, O Lord.”
The hierarch seeks entrance into the new church through the “Rush service,” just like we all celebrate annually at the midnight of Pascha! This verbal exchange, taken from Psalm 23, indicates Christ’s entry into the prison of darkness where we were held by death. Lift up your gates, O princes, and be lifted up, O everlasting gates, that the King of glory may enter. The risen and victorious Lord broke those gates. Now in this Rush service in the consecration, we depict Christ’s investing His Church with His true presence. Hereafter, this house is nothing ordinary anymore; it is the House of God where the believers gather in His name to celebrate the paschal victory. After the hierarch enters, followed by the faithful, he proceeds directly to the new Table, about to be made Holy.
We see in the consecration service such a profound display of Divine Grace which directs our attention to the most important center, the Holy Table. St. Symeon of Thessaloniki said that “there is no consecration of a church without the consecration of the Holy Table within it.” The Holy Table is treated just like a new believer: it is flooded with water—a Baptism! It is sprinkled with rose-water—a Burial, thus making it iconic of the very Tomb of Christ! While sprinkling it, the hierarch says verses from Psalm 50 and we evoke an allusion to the Lamentation-service of the Burial of the Lord. The Holy Table is chrismated with Holy Chrism: “The Church, portraying the anointing of Thy chosen people, is anointed today with the most precious chrism, and invisibly receiveth the Divine Grace of the Holy Spirit” (Canon of Consecration, Ode 4, third troparion). Just as with new believers whose five senses are anointed with chrism, so the Holy Table receives a five-fold chrismation: its very center, where the Holy Eucharist will be henceforth consecrated, and its four pillars. St. Gregory of Nyssa said “the stone of the altar is consecrated by the therapy of God and thereby receives the blessing.” The Holy Table is vested with its own white, permanent baptismal garment, never to be removed from now on. This reveals the resurrectional character of Divine Grace to be manifest there. The Holy Table is vested a second time as an ordination to sacerdotal service—with royal and hieratic beauty in rich vestments showing the priestly glory and beauty of God the Word and our High Priest, Whose Holy archpriesthood is manifest round about it from now on. The Holy Table is censed with sweet-smelling fragrance demonstrating mystically the Holy and fervent prayer to arise from it. All our spiritual life flows forth from the Holy Table, whose consecration confirms us all in the faith of Christ.
The remainder of the Holy church-temple is then anointed and consecrated unto Divine worship. First the Holy Table, then the “Holy Place,” the nave proper and the whole edifice, unto the Lord! Truly, as the Holy hierarch St. Symeon stressed, our life flows from the altar. We hear something similar at the end of the lamp-lighting hymns for consecrations, “after having consecrated the all-sacred temple… we receive from the hands of Thy servants the bloodless and immaculate Sacrifice.”
So, you all witness this blessed unfolding of the Mystery today—the imprint of Holy Baptism, Chrismation, and Ordination—stamped in architecture and made visible to God-seekers. “My house shall be a place of prayer for all nations.” The deep truth is that the outward beauty and decorum of the consecration of the Church mirrors the inner consecration of the temple of our hearts, so that we may become living temples consecrated for the in-dwelling of God the Holy Spirit. Sung to the same tune as the paschal 9th irmos, “Shine, shine,” we have the 9th irmos of the consecration promoting this point,
“Be consecrated, be consecrated, O new Jerusalem… This house hath the Father built; this house hath the Son made manifest; this house hath the Holy Spirit inaugurated, Who enlighteneth and establisheth and sanctifieth our souls.”
Each of you who labored to bring this project to fruition, some with little gifts offered out of your lack, and others who offered large benefices out of your abundance, you all fulfill the Law of Christ in which each plays his part in the fulfillment of the Divine Plan. You all become “the blessed and ever-memorable founders and this Holy church,” a description of the faithful of a church who have departed this life. We never cease praying for you founders! Your work and your labour of love outlive you and reveal your participation in the very labor of God. That labor is not bound by temporal affairs.
This Holy Consecration is a new Pentecost, an out-pouring of Grace Divine, to increase the confirmation of Orthodoxy and further establish the Church in southern California. Rejoice, for our sister-churches are illumined and every parish finds a new source of strength through your achievement, in God’s mercy.
Our prayer in closing echoes that which is expressed by the closing words of the troparion with which I began my homily, “Strengthen (Thy church-)Temple forever and ever, and accept our prayers which we unceasingly offer therein unto Thee, through the Theotokos, O Thou Who art the Life and Resurrection of all.”
To the Lord, the Chief-cornerstone of His Holy Church, be all glory, honor, and worship, to the Father and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, unto endless ages. Amen.