Holy Fire

The appointed Gospel reading for today, the Leave-taking of Pascha, begins with the words of Christ: “While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” These words were made all the more poignant by the fact that we heard these words while bearing candles that were lit from the Holy Fire: candle flames that were lit from candles that were lit from other candles, in a continuity which began with the miracle of the Holy Fire. In this annual, regularly-scheduled miracle the Patriarch of Jerusalem emerges from the tomb of Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher each year just before the celebration of Pascha, with fire miraculously kindled within the Tomb. This physical connection with the place of the Resurrection mirrors the connection which Christ speaks about in this Gospel reading, encouraging us to maintain the fire within us, kindled by God Himself.

Our life as Christians is much more than our acceptance of certain beliefs. It is more than the choice of which god, if any, that we will serve. Our faith is a living faith, based on our connection to the Living God, just as the candles we held today were living connections to the fire kindled by God in the tomb of His Son.

But in a world in which we find ourselves surrounded by skepticism, materialism, and a multitude of distractions, how do we keep the fire of our Faith burning strong? I think the answer to that important question lies in the flame of our Paschal candles. For anything to burn, only two things are required: fuel and oxygen. To keep the flame of our souls burning strong, we need the same ingredients. The spiritual fuel of our hearts is not beeswax or paraffin, it is the life of the Church: her Worship, her Sacraments, and her ascetic life of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These are the food of the soul that bring us eternal nourishment. But like any flame, no fuel can burn if it is not kindled in an environment with the air necessary to turn the fuel into flame.

The spiritual air we breathe is none other than God Himself, offered to us by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. None of our spiritual efforts would ignite unless offered in the “atmosphere” of the presence of God. He transforms our feeble human efforts into an eternal and life-giving reality by His very presence around and within us as we act out in faith. This is the synergy of our souls: faithful human actions undertaken within the presence of the God Who “fills all things.”

But if we want a consistent flame and not just a temporary flare-up, we need a third element. If you want to keep a flame burning for a long time, you need something like a candle: wax for fuel, oxygen to feed the fire, and a wick to keep the flame in place. A candle is only able to burn for hours steadily because of the presence of a wick, guiding and centering the flame and allowing the fuel and oxygen to burn continuously. For us, that centering wick is the revelation from God given in Jesus Christ, and preserved whole and intact within Orthodox Christianity. He who called Himself “The way, the truth and the life” keeps our hearts as steadily burning flames by the specificity of the way He taught us to live, the truth he revealed and the life as He offered it to us in his saving actions of death and resurrection. “Did not our hearts burn within us well he talked to us along the road, while he opened for us the Scriptures,” asked the disciples of each other as they realized that the true Christ had visited them on the road to Emmaus following His resurrection. His Way, His Truth and His Life guide us as we receive them, offering up in exchange our way, our truth and our life, in order to receive His.

When our hearts burn as a study flame of a candle, fed by the spiritual fuel of the church, live by the presence of God and guided by the truth that is Jesus, we answer His call not simply to be members of a religious body, but to become “sons of light.”

As we bid farewell to this year‘s celebration of Pascha, let us greet the new life that Christ offers us every day: making us sons of light with His warming, enlightening presence burning within us.