May 8, 2015

Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian as a Model for our Lives

St. John the Theologian (Feast Day - September 26 and May 8)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

The Apostle and Evangelist John is the soaring eagle of Theology. He wrote the most theological of the Gospels. The Church awarded him with the title of Theologian and in iconography he is depicted with an eagle near his head. But he is also the Evangelist of Love. Not only because he constantly refers to love, but also because he experienced it and expressed it. He was the disciple "whom Jesus loved," but he also very much loved his Teacher. He followed Him in the most difficult moments of His earthly life. When the other disciples hid "for fear of the Jews," he was present at His arrest, trial and on Golgotha, where at the foot of the Cross Christ entrusted to him His mother. Together with his brother James and Peter, they were a trio of disciples that Christ took with Him to the resurrection of the daughter of Jairus, to Mount Tabor where "He was transfigured before them," as well as to Gethsemane where He prayed before His Passion.

He also loved all people, because whoever loves God loves everything He created, especially his fellow man - everyone, without exception, whether friends or enemies, indiscriminately. It was a true love without selfishness, self-interest or racism, which are characteristics of impure and impassioned love. Because the saints are passionless and pure, they experience authentic love that embraces even their enemies. On the island of Patmos where he was exiled, because of this love, he was made worthy to see and record the Apocalypse. He also wrote three wonderful epistles.

Characteristic is the way in which he begins narrating the life of Christ in the Gospel he wrote: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."

It begins with the fundamental truth that the Word, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, is perfect God and existed always with the Father. There was never a moment He did not exist. He is eternally begotten of the Father and is without beginning and without end. He existed before creation, since it was He who created the world, which means that all of creation, visible and invisible, was created by Him. The Triune God, "the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit," created all things. The Son and Word of God is light and life, Who illumines mankind, as long as they are receptive to illumination, that is, those who have the preconditions to see this light, which is not created or sensed, but uncreated.

God is uncreated and therefore His energies are uncreated. And there is an infinite difference between that which is uncreated and that which is created. What is created is finite, subject to decay and death, and is unable to regenerate and save, while that which is uncreated, the Holy Triune God, is without beginning and without end, and is the light and life of humanity. Those who live in the darkness of their passions cannot understand the existence of this light, and therefore cannot defeat the darkness of sin and the error of heresy. This light, which is the glory of Christ, John saw on Mount Tabor, together with Peter and James, "as much as it was possible for them." He testifies to and confesses what he saw, heard, felt, smelled and experienced in his entire existence, which was transfigured. Because on Tabor we not only have the transfiguration of Christ, but also that of His disciples. Their sensible eyes were transfigured, so that they were able to see the light of Christ. "That light was not sensible, nor did those who beheld it see it with their simple sensible eyes. The eyes of the disciples were reformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. Regarding the vision of this Light, Saint Gregory Palamas writes: 'Eyes that can perceive natural things would be blind to this Light.' For the vision of this light to take place, He "opened their eyes and brought them from blindness to sight." Therefore, the disciples were transfigured in order to be found worthy to see the glory of God in the human nature of the Word" (Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, Saint Gregory Palamas as an Hagiorite).

There are also saints today who have experiences similar to those of the holy Apostles. That is, they experience the three stages of the spiritual life, namely the purification of the heart, the illumination of the nous, and the vision of the uncreated light. The Orthodox Church has preserved this faith unadulterated, as it was given by Christ to the Apostles, together with the method of healing the soul of the passions. The passionate cannot truly love, because they mingle love with selfishness and self-interest. And it is known from history, as well as from recent events, that the greatest crimes to humanity have been committed in the name of love and justice. Authentic love is related to the true faith and inner purity, and is not expressed "with words or speech but with actions and in truth" (1 Jn. 3:18).

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Ὁ Εὐαγγελιστὴς τῆς Ἀγάπης - Ἅγιος Ἰωάννης ὁ Θεολόγος", May 1999. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.