Matryoshka Faith

Homily, Matryoshka Faith
Sixth Sunday of Easter, 2023
Good Shepherd Episcopal Church
Tequesta, FL

The Rev. Derek M Larson, TSSF

Today’s Lectionary Readings:

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Have you ever seen those Russian nesting dolls? Matryoshka they are called in Russian. These beautifully carved, egg-shaped wooden dolls of decreasing size that fit inside one another, one-by-one. They are often painted in bright colors as peasant women in traditional Russian clothing, and they are meant to be a symbol of motherhood and fertility. In fact, their name, Matryoshka, roughly means, “little mother.” Each doll carries within her another.

As I read our passage from the Gospel of John this morning, that’s the image I have in mind. Particularly in verse 20 towards the end of these selected verses, “On that day, you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” Each person in this passage carries within them another. You have the Father, who carries within him Christ, who carries within him the disciples, or humanity. It’s this beautiful and maternal vision of varying manifestations of God’s presence nested within one another. 

God carries within Godself our whole being, like a mother carries her child. And continuing this Mother’s Day theme, we see this in other aspects of the Scriptures we hear today, “I will not leave you orphaned,” Jesus says earlier in the gospel, and “In him we live and move and have our being,” St. Paul says in our reading from Acts, “we too are his offspring.” We see in these words a combination of both motherly and fatherly characteristics, for just as Blessed Julian of Norwich, whose feast day we celebrated this past week said in the 14th century, “As truly as God is our Father, so truly God is our Mother.”

And yet as I study this passage a little closer with the image of the Matryoshka in mind, there’s something I find puzzling. “I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you,” Christ says. How is it that Christ is both the one who carries us within him and the one whom we carry within us? How is it that the Christ matryoshka can be both small enough to dwell within us and big enough for us to dwell within him?

Now you’ll have to forgive me because my homily is a little bit more theological in orientation this week rather than pastoral, but I think you’ll find that at the heart of this little paradox is a profoundly powerful affirmation of our faith. And one with which the Church has wrestled from its earliest days. 

And the heart of that wrestling found its resolve in one word: Theotokos. It’s a Greek word that means “God-Bearer” or “Mother of God”, and it is a title that was given to Mary, Jesus’ mother. Because in Mary we see this paradox most clearly demonstrated. Christ through whom all things were made, was carried within Mary’s womb. Mary came into the world through Christ, and yet Christ  also came into the world through Mary. Mary is not God, Mary is not Divine, and yet God was within her. 

So here’s the point: In the Christian faith we affirm that God is both outside of us, and within us. And like Mary, we too, are called to be theotokos, “God-bearers.” We are called to carry within us the divine presence of Christ. We are called to be matryoshki—“little mothers” of Christ. 

That’s what this passage is about. Jesus is giving his farewell speech before his death on the cross and he is making the case to his disciples, that because they dwell with and within him, even through death and beyond, he will also dwell with and within them. Towards the end of this speech in John 16, Jesus even compares the disciples to mothers in labor, waiting for the joy of new birth. We are God-bearers. Little mothers of Christ. And while Christ is so much bigger and more glorious than we will ever be (God is God, and we are not), God has given us the great gift to carry within us his presence, that we might give birth to him in the world. 

So what does that mean? What does it mean to carry Christ within us? It means that God is never farther from us than our own center. And it means that we are to tend and care for and nurture that Divine presence that it may grow within us and shape our lives. God is both outside of us and within us. We both dwell in God and give God a place to dwell in us. We have a matryoshka faith. 

In a few moments we will celebrate some baptisms together, and baptism is a sacrament which points to two aspects of our faith. Our identity and our vocation. In baptism we find our identity as God’s beloved children. We find ourselves dwelling within God who is our Father, our Mother. The waters of baptism are the waters of new birth. We are God’s children.

And in baptism we also find our vocation to be God-bearers. To be those that carry God into the world. In Spanish the phrase for “to give birth” is literally translated “to give light.” In baptism we shine the light of Christ within us into the world. 

Baptism then points both to God as the one in whom we dwell and the one who dwells in us. Today, then, as we celebrate those that will be baptized, and as we remember our own baptisms, let us also remember that great and mysterious, matryoshka truth of a God that dwells within and a God in whom we dwell. Amen.