Saturday, May 23, 2020

Sunday of the Blind Man (6th Sunday from Pascha)

Tomorrow is the Last Sunday of the Paschal Cycle and we hear in the gospel reading, about one of the many miracles of Christ: a man who was born blond receiving his sight. This miracle is so important, that St. John the evangelist recounts many details of this account.

The Scribes and Pharisees, were trying to slander and persecute Christ. Because of their blind hatred towards Him, they couldn’t even bring themselves to believe the miracle that they themselves had come face to face with and on the contrary tried to dispel it. But the blind man, clearly having felt the miraculous power of Christ not only confesses the miracle, but also defends Him. The result of this brave attitude of his, was that his expulsion from the synagogue (and society) by the the Pharisees.

Although in his blind state, the blind man understood the power of Christ and was finally healed. On the contrary, the Scribes and the Pharisees, although able to see, were spiritually blind. Spiritual blindness is incomparably worse than physical blindness. If one loses his spiritual eyes, one loses the orientation of his life and then his life becomes useless and meaningless. The loss of the spiritual light that springs from Christ is the loss of true happiness in life. And when do we lose the light of our soul? We lose it when we stop communicating with Christ. Communication with Christ is lost when we do not participate in the Sacraments of the Church, we do not pray, we do not fast, we do not live a spiritual life. When we turn away from Christ who is the Light, we are led into spiritual darkness and blindness.

People who are spiritually blind are the ones who violate the moral rules of life. They are the ones who are captured by every delusion and sin. For us Christians, blindness comes with contempt for the preaching of the gospel. This spiritual blindness, without the compass of conscience, leads many people, darkened by sin, to works of injustice, theft, and into any violation of God’s commandments. But there are also spiritually blind people who may have different virtues and struggle. They are like the Pharisees. They are arrogant and proud thinking that they are not like other sinners; they are harsh in their behavior towards their fellow brothers; they are the ones who criticize everyone except themselves.

The parents of the blind man are afraid to confess the miracle that happened to their child who was born blind, so that they also do not become outcasts. So much was their faith and gratitude to God that they masterfully avoided publicly confessing this great miracle. Likewise, many of us who also benefit daily from God, are ashamed or afraid to confess God out of our little faith. On the contrary, the blind man also proves to be a confessor! The blind man finally healed not only the eyes of his body but also of his soul. He acknowledges and worships the deity of Jesus and does not hesitate to confess it to the religious leaders with the courage that many of us would envy. Faith alone is not enough, and confession of faith is needed to become genuine children of Christ. If we confess Christ before men, He will also confess us before His Father.

Although the blind man did not have his physical eyes, he had purity, selflessness, anticipation, and ultimately faith in the true God. Although the blind man was pointed at by the Pharisees, he was not afraid to confess who had healed him. His faith made him courageous and he was not afraid of the religious fanaticism of his time nor the consequences that came along with defying them. The blind man's faith in the true God far outweighed the apparent faith of the Pharisees.

My beloved, we will also hear this Gospel passage. We believe in the Saviour Christ and we want to be members of His Church. Christ not only opened the physical eyes of the blind man but also opens the eyes of our soul. We are happy to receive the Light of Christ thats guides us to works of light, to works of true virtue and holiness. We may be tired of life's journeys, but the Lord calls us, "Let those who are weary and burdened come to Me, and let Me give them rest" (Matt. 11:28). Christ is the Light of life that enlightens every man to use this temporary life towards the eternal one. But we also need to make our own efforts in this direction. Let us also begin to seek the True Light and not remain in spiritual darkness. Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!

At that time, as Jesus passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. And His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him. We must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day; night comes, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." As He said this, He spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle and anointed the man's eyes with the clay, saying to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar, said, "Is not this the man who used to sit and beg?" Some said, "It is he"; others said, "No, but he is like him." He said, "I am the man." They said to him, "Then how were your eyes opened?" He answered, "This man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me, 'Go to Siloam and wash'; so I went and washed and received my sight." They said to him, "Where is He?" He said, "I do not know."

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. The Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, "He put clay on my eyes and I washed, and I see." Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for He does not keep the sabbath." But others said, "How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?" And there was a division among them. So they again said to the blind man, "What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?" He said, "He is a prophet."

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight, and asked them, "Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?" His parents answered, "We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age, he will speak for himself." His parents said this because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess him to be Christ he was to be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, "He is of age, ask him."

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, "Give God the praise; we know that this man is a sinner." He answered, "Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I know, that though I was blind, now I see." They said to him, "What did he do to you? How did He open your eyes?" He answered them, "I have told you already and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become His disciples?" And they reviled him, saying, "You are His disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this fellow, we do not know where He comes from." The man answered, "Why, this is a marvel! You do not know where He comes from, and yet He opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, He could do nothing." They answered him, "You were born in utter sin, and you teach us?" And they cast him out of the synagogue.

Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, "Do you believe in the Son of man?" He answered, "And who is He, sir, that I may believe in Him?" Jesus said to him, "You have seen Him, and it is He who speaks to you." He said, "Lord, I believe"; and he worshiped Jesus.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

"Heavenly television station ( St. Paisios the Athonite )

There are no people more blessed than those who have made contact with the " heavenly television station" and who are piously connected to God.

In the same way, no people are more wretched than those who have cut contact with God and wander, dizzy, around the world, flipping through the world's many television stations as to forget, if only for a short time, the anguish of the derailment of their lives.

St. Paisios the Athonite

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord

There is a “texture of life” that cannot be reduced. It has a richness that rational descriptions cannot capture. Though we battle with powerful forces that draw us towards the destructiveness of sin – there is written deep within us a hunger for wholeness and the capacity for God. In the words of St. John, “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

This texture also belongs to the Kingdom of God, though in even greater measure. Christ Himself brought the Kingdom into our midst. Wherever He went the signs of the Kingdom followed: the blind received their sight, the lame walked, the lepers were cleansed, the dead were received back to life, and the poor had good news preached to them. How do you measure the gift of sight to a blind man, or the joy of a family who receives back into its midst one whom they thought dead?

The Orthodox Tradition, which is often described by many as “mystical,” is not “mystical” in any sense of “esoteric” or “strange.” Such adjectives for the faith are simply a reaching for words to describe a reality that is richer than any merely rational scheme or metaphysical explanation. It is the largeness of a Kingdom that cannot be described or circumscribed, and yet is found in the very heart of the believer. What words do we use to describe something which dwarfs the universe and yet dwells within us?

It is the texture of depth – or to use St. Paul’s expression: “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). This is not merely a statement that nothing has the power to separate us from God, but that nothing has such height or depth as the love of God. It is a rich mixture of images – from the measurement of space, to the angels of heaven, to the elements of time – nothing reaches to the end of the love of God – the very stuff of His Kingdom.

It is for such reasons that I always find myself repelled by efforts to reduce doctrine to simplified formulas. Doctrine – the teaching of the faith should not reduce our understanding but enlarge it – to the very point of silence – and beyond. It is why it is so frustrating to try and explain icons. No one has an argument with the presence of words in the Church – the icons do the same things words do – only with color and in the language of silence. I can enter the Church, remain in silence and yet see (and hear!) something other than the incessant chatter of my own mind. The icons speak with the texture of the Kingdom – opening windows and doors that transcend every height and depth, things present and things to come.

Becoming aware of this texture requires the careful attention of an Orthodox life. Our lives are often filled with tensions and judgments with jealousy and greed – all of which serve to deaden our hearts and make us blind to the true character of the Kingdom in our midst. The Kingdom is reduced to slogan – a cypher for a set of opinions. Patience, inner stillness, love and forgiveness are the disciplines that make it possible for us to perceive the texture of the Kingdom. It allows its depth to be formed in our hearts.

The stillness of an icon should be approached with a stillness in our heart. The rhythm of the liturgy should be allowed to become the rhythm of our souls. The words of Scripture should not sail over our heads but echo within us. The texture of all these things is the same texture as that being formed within us by the work of God’s Spirit. It will become the texture of our true existence.