Efstratios Magoulias, or Yianni as his friends call him, is a native of the Annunciation parish in Modesto, California. Having completed his bachelors in Classics (with an emphasis in ancient Greek culture) at UC Santa Barbara, he is currently a 4th year Master of Divinity seminarian candidate at Hellenic College Holy Cross, Greek Orthodox School of Theology. Yianni loves sharing what makes him smile, in the hope it too makes others smile. Throughout the St. Helen's Pilgrimage, Yianni will be writing and reflecting on his experiences with various churches, monasteries, and adventures with his fellow schoolmates. Yianni hopes all of the iPilgrims at home following along will also have the opportunity to one day visit the Holy Land, Constantinople, and Greece in order to strengthen and experience their faith in Jesus Christ, first hand.
Watch Now as the student author at Holy Cross delivers his Senior Sermon.
If I stand on the twenty-seventh floor of a tall building, and press the button for the elevator, I have faith that the elevator will come. When it does and the door opens, I am presented with a vehicle, that I hope, that I have faith, will take me safely to the ground floor. But in order for this to happen, I have to step inside of the elevator and allow it to take me to my destination.
The Church Fathers, during this season of Great Lent, call us to attend church on a more frequent basis, and prescribes more intense prayer and fasting. During this time, we are instructed to read three books from the Old Testament which regularly are not read in a liturgical context, except for a few occasions. The Book of Genesis, which tells us about the creation of the world, the fall of mankind, that is, the introduction of sin into the world, and the promise of the coming of Christ. The Book of Proverbs, which gives us the wisdom of Solomon, “that fear in the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. Finally, the Book of Isaiah prophecies to us the coming of Christ, the Resurrection, and the destruction of death; that the Holy One of Israel will come to redeem His people.
I want to close in specifically on the Book of Isaiah this evening. In order to accurately understand, we must take a closer look at the context and the events surrounding the writing of the Book of Isaiah. Judah was in the process of being conquered by the Assyrian kingdom. With nowhere left to turn, Isiah spoke to his people, instructing them to place their faith and trust in the Lord. Through prophecies and visions, Isaiah goes on to write in amazing detail the coming of the Messiah; from Christ’s birth by a virgin, His Passion, and His Glorious Resurrection. Isaiah presents to his people the elevator. He asked his people to have faith that the elevator would one day arrive.
Here in the chapel we have a very special and unique icon that we might glance at, then casually dismiss. Located inside the altar, just above the prothesis, we see the icon titled, «Άνωθεν εν θρόνω και κάτω εν τάφω» “Above enthroned and below entombed”. I know it is difficult to see right now, but please take a second to look at it and reflect after chapel. This icon depicts prophecies from both Isaiah and Jacob. In the icon, we see Christ wrapped in the linen shroud and entombed. To the right and left, we see the prophets Isaiah and Jacob holding scrolls, containing their prophecies. At the top of the icon, we see Christ seated on a throne in Heaven, surrounded by the seraphim.
This icon is speaking of the death and Resurrection of Christ. How God remained enthroned in heaven, while destroying Hades through His death and Resurrection. This icon has three parts, taken from the Book of Isaiah. To the right of the icon, we see Isaiah, prophesying the Passion and Resurrection of our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ. One of his prophecies is seen at the bottom of the icon, saying, “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb is silent before his shearers, so He opens not His mouth… For His life is taken from the earth, and because of the lawlessness of My people He was led to death,” and again, “’Now I will arise,’ says the Lord; ‘now I will be glorified; now I will be exalted’”.
Depicted at the top, we see a depiction of Isaiah’s vision, “I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up. The house was full of His glory. Around Him stood seraphim… And one cried to another and said, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory’”. Finally, the words on the scroll that the Prophet Isaiah is holding should sound familiar to us. These words are taken from chapter 14 verse 9,, “You O Hades, have been embittered by encountering Him below”. I’m sorry, maybe the Greek will be a little more clear. «Ο ‘Αδης φησίν, Επικράνθη! συναντήσας σοι κάτω, Επικράνθη! The verse on the scroll is the verse St. John Chrysostom quotes in his Paschal Homily that we continue to read, and joyfully reply to, at the conclusion of the
But the people of Judah encountered a problem. As we know from our faith and from the Book of Genesis, the gates of heaven were closed, Adam and Eve were expelled from Paradise. Isaiah asked his people to have faith that the Messiah would come and save them. For the people of Judah, the elevator had not yet arrived, Isaiah told them that it would come, and he asked them to have faith.
Isaiah prophecies have come true. Christ was born of a virgin, He took on flesh. He suffered torture and mocking, He was crucified. And on the third day He rose from the dead, destroyed death and freeing those in bondage, and granting the world eternal life. Christ is the elevator that takes us from where we are, to where we want to go, meaning life-everlasting with God. Yet we are still instructed to read this book from almost 2500 years ago. Because our Orthodox Christian faith is designed by God to
grow. Faith is not a one and done, “I have faith,” and then go about our day. Our faith in God is called to grow, continually bringing us closer to the Prototype. It can only grow, if we put it to use.
St. Kosmas Aitolos said: “Our Faith has been made secure by wise and learned saints, who both explained the Holy Scriptures precisely and have enlightened us through their divinely inspired lives.” The Church gives us her teachings, and we have the saints who take us by the head and lead us on the right path, that is the path towards Christ.
Having been baptized and chrismated into our precious Orthodox Christian Faith, we have made the first step. At our baptisms we heard, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him, by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Through our baptism, not only do we have faith that we will be saved, but we are joined together with Christ. “For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a Resurrection like His”. The Holy Fathers teach us that “faith is the beginning of love; and the end of love is knowledge of God.” No matter what our age, we must not be discouraged from expressing our faith. Through our faith, is how we learn and first experience God’s love. We must continue to practice our faith, to learn about God’s love for us, which will bring us closer to Him.
During this season of Great Lent, we are called to take a closer look at our lives. We read selections from Holy Scripture, like the Book of Isaiah, which remind us that our faith, our unification with Christ in His death and Resurrection, brings us to
knowledge of God, to everlasting life with Him.
The elevator has come to our floor. We are presented with the vehicle that will take us to our destination. All we have to do is that step.
Will you step into the elevator with me?
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