26 January 2012
“God is Fire”
Eugene Rose Lay Sermon Nov. 1963
“God is fire”: in these words the Chosen One of God, St. Seraphim of Sarov, reminds us not only of the splendor of the Divine Glory, but also of our own opportunity and hope; for no one can approach God who does not himself become fire. This is no mere figure of speech, but a spiritual truth demonstrated in the lives of many saints. Christian hermits who would otherwise have frozen to death in winter frosts were kept warm by inward spiritual fire; and even the layman Motovilov, by the special grace of God, was permitted to experience this warmth in the presence of St. Seraphim and to see the Saint as though in the center of a dazzling sun.
Such fire, as St. Seraphim tells us, is the tangible manifestation of the grace of the Holy Spirit; it was given to the Apostles at Pentecost and is given anew to every Orthodox Christian in Baptism. In our spiritual blindness and coldness we neither see nor feel this fire, save perhaps in rare moments of fervent prayer and communion with God, and even then in small measure; but no one can approach God except through this fire. When our first parents were expelled from Paradise, God set a fiery sword to guard the Tree of Life; and even today, in the prayers before Holy Communion, we pray that the fruit of the new Tree of Life, the Most Holy Body and Precious Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, will not burn us in our unworthiness. St. Seraphim said, “Our God is a fire which consumes everything unclean, and no one who is defiled in body or spirit can enter into communion with Him.” So it is that the damned in Hell would experience nothing but pain even in the very presence of God; they are unclean, and the Divine Fire can only burn and torment them. Yet the very fire that burns the unworthy can also consume impurities and make worthy those who, though unworthy, still love God and desire to be His sons. We pray before Holy Communion, “May Thy most precious Body and Blood, my Savior, be to me as fire and light, consuming the fuel of sin and burning the thorns of my passions, enlightening the whole of me to adore Thy Divinity.”
St. Seraphim compared the Christian believer to a lighted candle that kindles other candles without diminishing its own light, thus helping to distribute the heavenly riches of divine grace. So must the Christian believer be, burning with love of God and zeal to serve Him, and filled with the fiery Presence of His Holy Spirit. If he is such a flaming candle in this life, he shall be something even much greater in the next life; “then,” our Lord tells us, “shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the Kingdom of their Father” (Mt 13:43). In our present unworthiness we can hardly conceive of such a state; for “eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered the heart of man what God has prepared for those who love Him” (I Cor 2:9). Such a state is the goal and meaning of the Christian life; it is what every Orthodox Christian lives for.