Before continuing with the life Hieromonk Ioann, founder of the Sarov Hermitage, I am inserting a sermon in harmony with our present liturgical cycle. The life of Hieromonk Ioann will be in four or five parts the second part is in English and needs to be edited while the remainder in still being translated. Now to the sermon:
Beloved of God, last week rather than speaking about St. Thomas Sunday the Paschal message of Patriarch Kyril was read. So then, today I will join together one aspect of the doubt of the Apostle Thomas with this Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing women. Today the Church honors our women, the love, zeal and courage of the Myrrh-bearers is clearly seen in their fidelity to our Lord Jesus Christ. Out of their love and zeal which gave them courage, they braved danger and went to anoint the buried body of our Lord. The Apostles were scattered in fear and then grouped together in hiding; while the Myrrh-bearers went to the tomb of our Lord Jesus Christ. And our Lord chose the Myrrh-bearing women to be the first witnesses of His resurrection. This should bring us to the realization, that now with the grace which is given to us through the sacramental life of the Church, the distinctions we have in this life are superseded by being in Christ.
Therefore, I would now like to introduce a question that may have arisen at some time or another for many of us. Does male and female continue in the world to come? The marriage relationship of this life ceases as our Lord said, “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” (Mat. 22:30) But does male and female continue? A nun once asked me about an introduction to a book she read which expressed the opinion that there is neither male nor female in the future life. She said, “If I were not a woman, I feel that I would no longer be the person that I am.” This is very significant: “I would no longer be the person that I am.” This does not change we each are a particular person whom no one else is. We have a particular personal entity, which is who I am. This does not cease to be.
So now, to continue with the question at hand, the opinion that there is neither male nor female in the afterlife was based on the Apostle Paul’s words: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28) So I wrote the individual who authored the aforementioned introduction. I questioned the opinion which was stated. In response the opinion of male and female ceasing to exist in the world to come was reaffirmed. In defense of this, a particular vision of St. Vincent of Lerins was referenced in which he saw the heavenly kingdom and he could not distinguish if there was male or female. I shared the response with a seminary professor and he immediately replied: “Theology is being based on vision and when you do that you run into problems.”
He went on to comment: “The Scripture is being taken out of context. The subject in consideration by the Apostle Paul was circumcision. This reply contradicts the iconographic tradition of the Church. There have been unisex representations in art which was rejected by the Church. Furthermore there are canons of the Ecumenical Councils which state that Christ rose with the body He assumed and we follow His pattern.”
This brings us to St. Thomas Sunday: “The other disciples told him [Thomas], “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25) What is it that he did not believe? He knew they saw something, he probably thought they saw a spirit. This is something that they all thought on first seeing the risen Lord. He doubted the bodily resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. In another place in the Gospels our risen Lord asks for something to eat, and this was to confirm the resurrection of the body He assumed. Christ arose with the body He assumed and we follow His pattern.
In his letter to the Galatians the Apostle Paul wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” The distinctions did not cease to exist but they are superseded by being “all one in Christ.” It is interesting to note that in the verse immediately before this we see the well-known expression: “As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” In Another place the Apostle expressed something very similar to the former, “There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. (Col 3:11) “Christ is all and in all”, all distinctions are superseded by being in Christ.
Let us all rejoice in who we are, for we are each a particular person created by God; and God does not make mistakes. He made us good and gave us talents. But we are fallen, we are distorted our capacities are crippled. Let us, then, perfect who we are by struggling for purification from passions, and cease not to do good to one another especially to those of the household of faith. Thus we shall live in Christ here and “more perfectly partake of Him in the never ending day of His kingdom”.1 Amen.
1. Paschal canon, a tropar of the 9th Ode