2 Cor 11:31-12:9
“I believe in one God, the Father almighty, Maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible …” Every time we say the Nicene Creed which is our confession of faith, we begin with these words. While they easily roll off the tongue in a matter of a few moments, these words contain a great deal of truth. Today in the epistle we heard the Apostle speak of a man who was caught up into the third heaven and saw Paradise and heard “inexpressible words”. Indeed here we have an example of the presence of those “invisible” things which we confess in the creed. When we think of creation, we tend to think only of that which is perceptible to our senses – what we can see and hear, that which is subject to our rational faculties (that which we call the mind or the intellect). Despite the apparent vastness of creation and limitless infinity of the universe, our perspective is therefore limited and most of the time we recognize only a small portion of the whole of God’s creation for most of the time we forget and disregard the greater “invisible” part of creation. Only occasionally do we lift up the eyes of the soul to recognize that which is unseen and even beyond the capacity of our intellect to grasp.
Sometimes, however, the “invisible” creation intrudes upon our awareness. The most notable example is when we consider our own mortality and what happens to the soul after death. There are many ideas and even “near death experiences” that find their way into the popular discussion, but none of these can even begin to express the true reality of the situation, since that reality is beyond the ability of our perception and reasoning. We only see such things “in a dark mirror” (1 Cor 13:12) and we speak of them only by way of metaphor and analogy and so our understanding is limited. As we are transformed and renewed by the action of the grace of God upon our beings, our perceptions and our mind are slowly restored to the condition which they had before the fall when the whole of creation, both visible and invisible was not only perceptible but was accessible to man. For this reason the saints, that is those who are advanced in the spiritual life, are at times able to perceive this invisible world even with their own physical senses and are able to communicate something of what they have seen and heard. In the epistle of St Paul today, we heard of one such experience when the Apostle, speaking of himself in the third person says, “I know a man in Christ who … whether in the body … or out of the body, I do not know … was caught up into the third heaven …(and) was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words which it is not lawful for a man to utter…” The Apostle, having been renewed by the transforming power of the grace of God, just for a moment perceived that great “invisible” creation. He does not tell us much of what he saw or heard for even by his own description it is impossible (“words not lawful for a man to utter”) to communicate the experience.
Today we also celebrate the memory of the Holy Apostle Thomas. After the Ascension of our Lord into heaven, the Apostles, by mutual agreement and fulfilling the commandments of the Lord to go into all the world and preach the good news of the Resurrection, scattered to different parts of the known world to preach the Gospel. Thomas, by the will of God, departed to India where he spread the good news throughout the whole land. There were many who received his words with joy and even those who embraced the ascetic and monastic life and who suffered martyrdom for Christ. Thomas himself, after many years of preaching in India, gave up his life for Christ, being run through with spears by the soldiers of an Indian prince. Before his martyrdom, however, there occurred an encounter with a certain prince Gundafor. This prince engaged the Apostle to build for him a great palace, like none that had ever been seen. Thomas agreed to do this and was given a large sum of money with which to complete the task. He departed to the place where the palace was to be built (some distance from where the residence of prince Gundafor was) and promptly distributed the whole sum of money to the poor and continued to preach the Resurrection. After a period of time, the prince contacted Thomas to see about the progress of his palace. Thomas reported that it was nearly done, but that he needed more money to complete the roof. When this money arrived, Thomas again promptly distributed it to the poor. When the prince came to inspect his new palace he was greatly angered to find no building at all and had Thomas imprisoned. As he was contemplating how to punish Thomas for his seeming deception, the prince’s brother fell ill and appeared to die. The prince loved his brother dearly and was greatly affected by his death. By the grace of God, however the prince’s brother revived and came to his senses. Upon awakening from his seeming death, he immediately asked a gift of his brother the prince Gundafor. He asked that the prince would give to him the great and marvelous palace that Thomas had built for him. The prince was naturally confused since he knew there was no palace. His brother then related how, when he was near death, he was taken by an angel and shown the various mansions of paradise. There was one that was particularly beautiful and magnificent, but the angel would not allow him to enter because it belonged to the prince and had been built for him by the Apostle Thomas through the alms given to the poor. The prince realized then that Thomas had indeed fulfilled his desire and built him a great palace like none other – a palace not on this earth where moth and rust corrupt and thieves break in and steal, but a palace in heaven. The prince at once sent for Thomas and hearing his preaching of the Kingdom of God embraced the Christian faith along with his whole family. The prince then began to build an even greater palace by increasing his own almsgiving.
Here we have another example of the awareness of the reality of the “invisible” creation. Thomas, in agreeing to build the palace for prince Gundafor, built not within the visible creation, but within the greater “invisible” creation of the Kingdom of God. The king, having received the vision of his brother given by God, had his eyes opened to recognize this “invisible” creation (note that the prince never actually saw his palace, but relied only on the words of his brother) and raised his perspective beyond the limits of this world. There are, of course, many other examples of such visions and dreams and experiences of the spiritual world, that “invisible” creation, in the lives of the saints and in the tradition of the Church.
We are given the accounts of these revelations of the spiritual world in order that we might ourselves begin to have a more complete and full perspective of the world in which we live. Our visible world is only a small and even insignificant part of the whole of God’s creation. Because, however, we are limited by the garments of skin with which God clothed man after the fall (to protect us from the attacks of the evil one and from the overwhelming consequences of our sin), we forget that creation is much greater than that which we can perceive with our senses and understand with our minds. As Christians, however, we are called to look up to the heavens, to look beyond the visible world and to consider the whole of creation both that which is visible and that which is invisible (i.e. the spiritual world) as our natural and rightful environment. We must constantly teach ourselves to consider not only the needs and resources and impacts of the visible world, but also to consider how we live in the spiritual world. We must remember that our lives in the spiritual world are of greater importance and permanence than our live in the visible world. Therefore it is incumbent upon us to use our resources not primarily to build up our visible lives, but more importantly to prepare for our life in the spiritual world. Let us heed the worlds of the Psalmist as he says to us, “Lift up your eyes unto the heights, from whence cometh the Lord” (Ps 120/121) Do not be blinded by the light of this visible world and limited only to it, but open your mind and heart to the light of Christ which will reveal to you the “invisible” spiritual world which is our rightful home in the Kingdom of God.