The Hidden God
“Blessed is the Hidden One shining out!”
St. Efrem was an ascetic and a poet who lived in the deserts of Syria. Some 1,600 years ago, he fled into the wilderness and joined a monastery, where he spent his life laboring to purify his soul and see God. In one of his poems, St. Efrem marvels at the hiddenness of God:
Lord, Your symbols are everywhere,
yet You are hidden from everywhere.
Though Your symbol is on height,
yet height does not perceive that You are;
though Your symbol is in the depth,
it does not comprehend who You are;
though Your symbol is in the sea,
You are hidden from the sea;
though Your symbol is on dry land,
it is not aware what You are.
Blessed is the Hidden One shining out!
God is everywhere present and filleth all things, and He is also hidden. Everything is steeped in God’s light, yet God remains behind a veil. This is a riddle, but Christ is the key. “Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God” (Mat. 5:8). God is everywhere present, yet we do not see him because of the darkness in our hearts.
The veil reappears again and again in the Holy Scriptures. Adam and Eve sewed together the first veil, after eating the fruit. Rather than repenting, they preferred hiding, and built a barrier of figs and leaves between them and God. What act better represents the state of our hearts? They wanted space, as my children put it, and that space between God and humanity has haunted us through history.
“Woe to those who deeply hide their plans from the Lord, and whose deeds are done in a dark place, and they say, ‘Who sees us?’ or ‘Who knows us?’” (Isaiah 29:15).
Ephesus was once a thriving port city renown for wealth and industry. At one point it was the most important city in the Roman Empire. Yet, a few centuries passed and it became a wasteland. For the longest time, archeologists wondered what happened. Was it a plague, war, invaders? Nothing explained it, until they discovered the deposits of silt. Little by little, the river washed silt into the bay. The build up was so gradual that it went unnoticed, but eventually, the silt cut off the city from the sea. Its trade economy was ruined.
We do the same every time we close our hearts to God. In all the passing moments scattered in the day, when we chose selfishness or disobey God in our conscience, the deposit of silt builds up. We put up a veil between us and God. When we do not seek his forgiveness, we get used to it. We prefer darkness. We want space.
Throughout Lent, our gospel readings have been getting sharper. The more Christ reveals himself, the more the world rejects him. Today’s reading magnifies this. Our Lord and a group of Jews meet, their true colors come out, and the veil is thick.
Christ speaks: “Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” The Jews responds: “Thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil.” God speaks again: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.” Here he reveals Himself as God and humanity responds by pickup up stones. So our Lord vanishes, “he Hid Himself” (Jn. 8:46-59). Sin hardened their hearts to such an extent. They had built up a veil so thick and heavy, that when they finally saw God, they wanted to kill him.
It was not his time, but the time came soon enough when he died on the cross. “It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit’” (Lk. 23:44). All of this is symbolized today, when our sanctuary is veiled in purple.
Passion Sunday is sobering. The veils on the icons are uncomfortable. We are used to seeing our friends, our loves ones, up on the walls when we worship. The images of our Lord and his mother, St. John and the angels, all make heaven feel so much closer. Today, we no longer see them. Just as the world no longer saw God in those hours of darkness. Humanity killed the light, and the light was gone.
We know what is coming. We know Pascha is just around the corner. Though Christ is crucified he will resurrect. Though our sanctuary is covered in purple, it will shine in white. Though we are fasting, we will feast soon enough. However, the Church gives us these next two weeks to prepare.
Lent is nearly over. We may have started hard, with our fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. Too often, we fall asleep in the middle of the race. Like the hare, we get lazy and fat and go to sleep. Now is the time to wake up. Are we aware of the veils we wear in our hearts? Do we recognize it when we hide from God? In what way might we be hiding from God, in busyness, noise, or distractions perhaps? The veils in this room ask us to remember the veils in our hearts and to repent.
“Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God” (Mat. 5:8).
God is everywhere and his beauty shines in everything. We spend our lives bogged down with heavy veils. We think the world is dark, when really it is our heart that is dark. If we can turn to him, if we can let Him into our heart to cleanse and purify it, then we will be able to see God. We will say, with the joy of St. Efrem: “Blessed is the Hidden One shining out!”