THE BREADTH, THE LENGTH, THE HEIGHT, THE DEPTHFr. Barnabas Powell
I really like to write and I enjoy public speaking, but I had a hint of my tendency to wordiness when my first stent in seminary produced a comment from one of my favorite professors. I had just finished a fairly intensive philosophy paper for his class and was really sweating the grade he would give me.
A few days past and other folks started getting their papers back graded and commented on with helpful thoughts from this gifted teacher. But, alas, mine wasn’t in the first batch returned. Then the rest of the class got their papers back but still nothing for me. Now I’m really worried.
Finally, after sheepishly approaching my professor, he gave me my graded paper. While I was happy with the grade (it was an A) I still remember the comment he wrote on the front page: “Dear Mr. Powell, you remind me of a German theologian – why use two words when twelve would do just as nicely!” OK, doc, I get it!
But sometimes the subject at hand demands a flood of words all tied together to show just how significant the thought is you are trying to express. Words are powerful icons of the mysteries of God and no language is ever really sufficient to express the unmitigated beauty of heavenly truths. No wonder it is said that, ultimately, the language of heaven is silence. The truth is slack-jawed, wide eyed, speechless awe is the ONLY truly honest response to the glories of the Uncreated.
But that didn’t stop St. Paul from trying! In our Epistle Lesson today we see the Apostle to the Gentiles literally unleash a river of words, all tumbling upon one another, attempting to show these Gentiles the unmatched glory of the salvation provided to the whole world in Christ. And all these spiritual riches are now available to us all for our salvation because of the humility, mercy, and love of a God Who loves His creatures more than His own comfort!
St. Paul tells these Ephesians: “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose which he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and confidence of access through our faith in him. So l ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory. For this reason I bow my knees before the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:8-21)
Notice that this passage is just FOUR sentences! But just look at what’s packed in there: Through the Church the manifold wisdom of God is made known; God’s Eternal Purpose was to do this; Paul’s sufferings are not wasted but for the Church’s benefit; BECAUSE Christ dwells in your heart through faith; Being Rooted and Grounded in LOVE you will have the POWER to COMPREHEND with all the saints the Breadth, the Length, the Height, and the Depth, and Know the Love of Christ which SURPASSES knowledge.
Amazing! Because of the Love of Christ, we become capable of knowing the unknowable! Love sets us free to expand beyond the borders of our limited creatureness to become by grace what Christ is by nature! Huge! Cosmic! Mind-blowing!
Tell me honestly, are you getting this kind of spiritual development in your life? Were you aware of just how huge the spiritual journey you were on really was? This Orthodox Christian Way, with all its beauty, soaring architecture, mysterious liturgies, constantly involved and purposeful disciplines, are all meant to communicate to you this huge and vast faith you have at your disposal to expand your understanding and your own soul!
Today, I want to challenge you to step to the edge of your comfort zone and peer into the vastness of just what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. I want you to seriously take some time today – as much as you can spare – to contemplate the message of our Orthodox Christian faith that God Himself has come among us to take us by the hand and bring us back to Himself. Contemplate the love, the concern, the eternal care this Being has for you and for all the people you meet today. Think about the gift given to you today in the air you breath, the life you live, the love you experience and know all this is because of the grace and kindness of God in Christ even in the face of our thoughtlessness, our selfishness, and our lack of thankfulness. Stop, and contemplate God’s goodness toward you. No wonder the Church calls us to the dual disciplines of Repentance and Eucharist (gratitude) as the twin poles of our Orthodox Christian faith!
When you do this today, you will discover a deeper ability to be grateful and repentant, and that gratefulness and repentance will strengthen you to more faithful living, and the more faithful living will witness the beauty of God’s love to all around you and draw them towards God as well.
Today, embrace the Breadth, the Length, the Height, and the Depth of God’s selfless love for you and watch as the very act of contemplating these cosmic truths expands your thankfulness and your ability to know the unknowable! Don’t miss this, dear one.