The feast of the founding of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.
This Sunday (Sept. 13th) we celebrate the feast of the founding one of the most important Churches in world, the Holy Sepulcher, built over the tomb of our Lord, and the site where He was crucified.
We commemorate this event, not simply because it is a historic milestone in the establishment of Christianity throughout the world (it was that), or because this was a magnificent building like Hagia Sophia in Constantinople or St. Peters in Rome (it certainly is), or that it was the first Church (it wasn’t). We commemorate this event, because like all our Churches, whether they are like our St. Nicholas in Narol, or like a store front mission, our commemoration manifests the Kingdom of God, the economy of salvation, and the fount of God’s grace, in the world. Every Church throughout the ages (from the house Churches in the Apostolic era, to the magnificent cathedrals of Byzantium) is modeled spiritually and dogmatically (if not architecturally) by where the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is located. The place where the Lord rose on the third day.
We hear in the reading for this feast King Solomon’s words at the founding of the temple in Jerusalem, “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple which I have built!” (3 Kings 8:27). Indeed no Church is the home of God, let alone the only place in which we can encounter His saving mercy. Yet as Solomon continues to pray, “That Your eyes may be open toward this temple night and day, toward the place of which You said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that You may hear the prayer which Your servant makes toward this place. And may You hear the supplication of Your servant and of Your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. Hear in heaven Your dwelling place; and when You hear, forgive”. (3 Kings 8:29-30).
For no Church is truly a Church in and of itself in the same way no Christian is a Christian in and of themselves. It is only a Church (or a Christian) when the faithful are gathered together to offer worship and praise ( Latreía and Doxology) in thanksgiving (Eucharist) for the victory of the Lord, over sin and death shared with humanity, in Jesus Christ. This is unfolded for us beautifully in the Epistle read for this feast (and read at the concentration of any Orthodox Church) “Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus, who was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was faithful in all His house. For this One has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as He who built the house has more honor than the house.
For every house is built by someone, but He who built all things is God” (Heb. 3:1-4).
Our “heavenly calling” is built upon our confession that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Mt. 16:16), and in our Churches that this confession can be made, as it is there that the Kingdom of God is present, the economy of salvation revealed, and that the fount of God’s grace overflows. Because it is in our Churches, however big or small, beautifully adorned or humbly furnished, where the King of Glory, rose from the dead on that beautiful third day, granting life to the world.
This feast is as much a celebration of all our Churches, as it is a celebration of the consecration of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.
Glory to God!