At a critical moment, Solomon, the son of King David, asks a critical question. David had desired to build the temple of the Lord, and had been denied the honor because of his transgression; but his son Solomon accomplished what his father could not do. Thus after generations of anticipation and years of work, the temple of Solomon was dedicated. It was during this dedication ceremony that Solomon asks his critical question: “Can it indeed be that God dwells with mankind on earth? If the heavens and the highest heavens cannot contain you, how much less this temple which I have built!” (2 Chronicles 6:18). In the midst of an enormous celebration recalling God’s presence among us in the temple, Solomon questions the very motive for the celebration!
But Solomon was only being a good theologian: how is it that God, a pure Spirit, can be in one place? It is a valid question, but not one without an answer. It is not a matter of God dwelling in one place and not in another, but of how he dwells in any particular place – or person. His presence in all of nature is real and powerful for those who seek him in his creation; but it is the presence of an Artist in his art. His presence in the temple was also real, and distinct from his presence in nature, since he had chosen this people to be his, and had himself commanded the building of the temple. His presence in the soul of a prophet must somehow be “greater,” though there is no way for us to quantify how this is, than in an ordinary man, and certainly than in a sinner.
W-Miltha Bisra Hwa, W-Aggen Ban
In the Christian dispensation we find the ultimate presence of God and his true temple: Jesus Christ. In Christ, God dwells on earth not only as an artist or as the Lord of the Nation or even as one speaking through a prophet. In Christ God dwells on earth bodily, physically, in his perfect, complete union with human nature – with the man Jesus Christ. Nor did this earthly presence of God end when Christ was taken up to heaven, since the Holy Spirit, given by Christ, provides for his perpetual dwelling among us within the Church. This takes place through faith, which is the groundwork for any true dwelling of God on earth.
The Basilica Hymn of the Third Sunday of the Sanctification of the Church takes up Solomon’s question anew and examines it from the Christian perspective:
How glorious is your dwelling place, and beautiful your altar, and great your magnificence, O Being who dwells in the heights!
What exactly is the “dwelling place” and “altar” to which this hymn refers? This would be a simple question in the context of the season (that is, we could easily answer that God dwells in the Blessed Sacrament, which is on the altar during Mass), but the following phrases seem to confuse the issue:
The watchers testify, who cry out and shout: holy, holy, holy is the Lord who dwells in Light! The angels proclaim the Trinity with their hallowings, as they say: glory at once to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit!
Even now, in the Christian world, Solomon’s question returns: how is it that God can be in heaven, worshiped by multitudes of angels, and at once on earth?
Now, near the end of the liturgical year, is a time to reflect upon why the Church of the East has provided these hymns for the entire cycle. From Subara until now, there has been a deep meditation, every week, every day, upon the particular meaning of that time in the year. This has been in a larger context of the Prayer, as our Basilica Hymns are in the context of Ramsha or Evening Prayer. So we do not reflect alone upon the mystery of God’s salvation, but together receive our meditation and our spirituality from our Church. But Ramsha is also in a larger context of the entire liturgical system of the Church of the East: it is combined with Sapra (Morning Prayer) and the other Hours; it is in the context of all the Sacraments, from Baptism on. Finally, all our reflection is within the context of the Holy Mysteries of the Eucharist, the culmination and high point of our worship of God.
It is there, at the Mass, that we find the solution to our Hymn’s question, and to Solomon’s:
Grant us to thank you along with them, and cry out to you with hosannas: Great, O Lord, is the grace that you have effected for the whole mortal race; O Lord, glory to you!
It is not only the “holy, holy, holy” of the angels in heaven (Isaiah 6:3) that completes the worship of God. No, this threefold “holy” is combined and intermingled with the “hosanna” of those dwelling on this little planet, those who saw the Messiah riding on a donkey and entering Jerusalem (Matthew 21:9, Mark 11:9, John 12:13). It is when the “holy” of the angels is combined with the “hosanna” of the people of God on earth that our worship of God becomes as perfect as it can be on this earth, and this combination is found at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass:
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty! Heaven and earth are filled with his glories! Hosanna in the highest! Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who came and will come in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!