The Orthodox Pages



22nd May 2014

















































































































































This coming Sunday is the sixth and last Sunday of Pascha as the 40days of Pascha come to an end on the following Wednesday and then on the Thursday we celebrate the event of our Lord’s Ascension into heaven.

For today's talk I want to talk to you about the Liturgy Gospel readings for these six Sundays. One would expect that during this forty day period the Gospel readings for all the Sundays would make direct mention of the Resurrection. In fact only the second and third Sundays directly refer to the Resurrection these being Thomas Sunday and the Sunday of the Myrrhbearers. Not even the Gospel for the first Sunday, in other words the Resurrection Sunday refers to the Resurrection. The Gospel reading for the fourth Sunday is the miracle of the Paralytic, the fifth Sunday the story of the Samaritan woman and the sixth Sunday the miracle of the man that was born blind. If we are in the Resurrection period, what have these readings got to do with the resurrection? Well even though they don't directly make any mention of the Resurrection they do in fact indirectly declare the significance of the Resurrection and what it means to man.

With the first Sunday and the Resurrection of our Lord we begin a new age, a new beginning and the reading reflects this new beginning. The Gospel reading is from the first chapter of the Gospel according to St. John. In the New Testament John’s Gospel is actually the last of the four Gospels, but in the Church’s Book of the Gospels it is the first. Why? Because John begins his Gospel from the very beginning. Matthew and Luke begin with the Nativity of Christ. The birth of our Lord is indeed a new start for mankind, a new chapter in the history of mankind, but it is not the beginning. Mark begins with the Baptism of our Lord which is again a new beginning, it is the start of our Lords ministry, but again it is not the beginning. Only John begins from the very beginning before the creation of this world. He begins saying: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Thus in the order of events, John’s Gospel is ranked as the first Gospel. The Resurrection is a new beginning for mankind, it is a rebirth, a new creation so the reading is appropriate for this new beginning.

As already said the Gospel readings for the second and third Sundays refer directly to the resurrection, but then with the fourth Sunday we see that the resurrection theme is abandoned and we have the reading of the miracle of the Paralytic man, so again we can ask what has this to do with the resurrection? If fact it has a great deal to do with the message of the Resurrection. The Lord’s Resurrection is his victory over sin and the devil, his triumph over death which was the result of sin. Our own resurrection is the putting to death of our sinful passions which bring about death and our return to the Lord: our resurrection is the renewal of our relationship and communication with him. Our union with Christ, our sanctification and deification, which is our personal resurrection, is the purpose for which Christ suffered the Crucifixion and then Resurrected. But the complete life of Christ, all his teaching, all his miracles and every station of his life have but one aim, one intention, one target – the Resurrection which again has only one target – our own resurrection.

This is the purpose of creation and recreation, this is the whole work of God for as Christ said “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” (John 5:17) The divine work of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is our resurrection from death and our union with God. Our sanctification is our resurrection, our deliverance from the captivity from the passions of sin. Our suffering in this world is a result of man’s fall and his captivity to the sinful passions. To be delivered from this suffering means to be cured not only of the bodily ailments but also of the ailments of the soul; the healing of the complete man. This is what we see in the miracle of the Paralytic of Bethesda; the miraculous healing of both his body and soul.    

We call something a miracle when an extraordinary and supernatural event takes place, which happens with the intervention and power of God. In Holy Stricture and especially in the New Testament, we see the use of various names to characterize these miracles. They are named “Powers” because by this they are revealing the power of God. They are called “wonders” and “Signs” because of the effect they cause on the people that see them, and they are also called “strange” and “works”.

Christ’s miracles are signs of his presence among us. They comprise the element by which Christ reveals God, that is, through “work and word” through “signs and wonders”. Christ reveals to us the mystery of God through his words, through his works, and especially through his miracles and his Resurrection. The Gospel proclaims that Christ came to set free, to cleanse, to give life and save mankind. A miracle is proof of this salvation. Without miracles, which renews and saves the body, undoubtedly we would not be able to perceive that Christ brought salvation for the whole of mankind. The miracle is the proof of the presence of the kingdom of God among us. Christ not only speaks of the coming of the kingdom of God, but at the same time materializes the works of this kingdom. The miracles testify to Christ’s dominance and Lordship over everything, over the body and of the things of this world. But a miracle is not just a show of power; Christ places his divine power in the service of love. His miracles are actions of love and charity and reveal his mercy. 

Miracles also certify the divine calling and the divine mission of those that perform them. This is valid for Christ and also his Apostles. The Miracles of Christ represent his action as the Son of God among men. They are works common to the Son and to the Father and reveal that the Son was sent by the Father and that they share a common glory, knowledge and power.

With the miracle of the Paralytic assigned to be read on the fourth Sunday of Pascha, the connection with the resurrection is the Paralytic's own resurrection. He was like a dead man and was risen to a new life, a new beginning.  The Paralytic was by the pool of Bethesda together with a great multitude of others, who suffered from various illnesses, and who waited for the moving of the water. As it says in the Gospel reading, an Angel came down from heaven at a certain time and troubled the water giving it a sanctifying and therapeutic grace. The first person who managed to enter the water was cured of whatever illness he had and then the water lost its miraculous quality and everyone waited for the next coming of the angel. Through this action the Spirit of God wants to show us that man’s cure whether it be in body or soul can only come from heaven: health is a gift of Grace.  How often the angel came down and troubled the water is not known. Some say that it was once a year, but this would not seem logical. If it was a yearly visit, then everyone would have gone to their homes and returned nearer the time of the yearly visit. In all probability the troubling of the water must have occurred many times during the year.

It would seem that the person who faced the greatest calamity and pain was the Paralytic, not only because he was paralyzed but also because his condition was chronic: he had been suffering for thirty eight whole years. For all this time he was bedridden not being able to even sit on a chair. The hymns of the Church say of him that he was as “An unburied corpse” and that “his bed became his grave”. The hymns also transfer his bodily condition to his soul which was not like an innocent bystander, but was also paralyzed from sins and improper actions.

The Paralytic waited like all the other people for the coming of the angel, but he couldn’t by himself move and fall into the pool. The others probably suffered less and could move or they had help, but the Paralytic was motionless had no-one to help him and this was his greatest sorrow – the human abandonment. He had no support, no comfort, from either family or friend. He was deserted from every help. Nowhere was to be found someone unselfish enough who would sacrifice a little of his love for his neighbour, just to show him the remotest affection by pushing him into the water and put an end to his martyrdom.   

In spite of all his suffering, the Paralytic doesn’t become despondent and neither does he abandon the pool to go home and cry for his suffering without human comfort and wait for his death. He endures and waits patiently for such a long time. He believes that one day Grace from heaven will come for him also. Why else would he have remained by the pool for so many years?

Christ is always near to the suffering and takes care even of the least of men for as he assures us “Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” (Luke 12:7) He gives strength to his creature whom he loves, so that he can withstand the pain, which he allows, so that the suffering will contribute to his salvation. Christ, as the all wise provider, judges that it is now time for the Paralytic to be cured. He will crown him for his great endurance, for his fight with the pain he suffered for thirty eight years, for his virtue of patience, for his faith and for his hope. Christ visits the pool by himself and goes straight to the person who had the greatest need, who had no help from anyone and asks him: “Do you want to be made whole” The question was not made out of ignorance but to reveal the Paralytic’s patience, his will and his desire to be cured. Of course he wants to be whole again. But Jesus’ question is valid for every person, who even though someone might not have a bodily ailment, his soul is definitely full of disease. We all suffer from the illnesses of the soul, in other words, the passions of sin. With his question, Jesus wants to stress the great importance he gives to our free will and consent before he gives us his Grace and grants us bodily health and more importantly health of the soul. If we reject his saving grace he will not impose it upon us by force, we will remain without his grace and self condemn ourselves to decay and death.

Christ not only has the power to cure us, but also to make us saints if we so wish. He respects our freedom. We can at any time accept or reject his sanctifying grace, and everyone who desired and said yes to his calling became saints no matter what sins they had beforehand. All sins are forgiven when man desires to accept with repentance the grace of God. That is why thieves and harlots, publicans and persecutors of the Church became apostles and martyrs, and others who said no like the Scribes and the Pharisees rejected salvation from Christ. Thus, apart from divine grace it is also necessary for our own free will and consent.

But there is another reason for Christ’s question, so that the Paralytic’s answer would be heard when he said: “I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool:” The cruelty, the stone-heartedness and the indifference of the people was due to the absence of God’s grace within them. When we break the relationship and communion with God and live by our own laws, we become strangers not only to God but also to other humans and we neither care nor sympathise nor feel sorrow for the pain others suffer. The passion of atomism and egocentricity makes us blind to the suffering of others. We are bereft of God’s grace which loves even one’s enemies. 

The first and great reward for the Paralytic’s patience is that he was accounted worthy to have a dialogue with Christ. This alone was worth all his suffering. The Paralytic did not know Christ, but hearing him speak, he possibly believed that at last there was found someone who would help put him into the water. Little did he know that the healing quality of the pool was nothing compared to the source of all healing that now stood before him. Christ then says to him: “Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.” How absurd that must have sounded to those that heard him. Everyone knew that the Paralytic had to enter the water to be cured. But he had never been in the water and now receives an order to not only get up and stand on his feet, but also to immediately walk and also lift the weight of his bed upon his shoulders and go home: And all this after being motionless for thirty eight years. Even the best doctor would say that it was absurd and impossible for all these things to happen in an instance, without exercise, without physiotherapy. The normal and natural procedure is to proceed slowly until the limbs gain the lost strength.

The Paralytic who knew his own disability could have thought that it was all a joke and laugh with what this stranger had told him. But it didn’t cross his mind because it would seem that first his soul was cured of its paralysis which then moved towards Christ with faith. And because he believed what was unbelievable to others, he obeyed, got up, stood on his feet, lifted his bed and took the road for his home. The miracle was complete. It was made in full view of everyone and no one could refute it.

The Jews considered the miracle a sin because it happened on the Sabbath. The Law clearly states that all work is forbidden on the Sabbath. But Christ is the New Creation that came into the world to make everything new and renews even the laws concerning the Sabbath. He gives it a new meaning, which helps in the renewal of man for which everything was created. That which justifies us is not our abstention from work on the Sabbath but our abstention from sin. When man is united with God, he will do God’s work even on the Sabbath just as he would do on any other day and avoid only the works of sin and the devil. Thus what Christ is telling us is that the only thing that tires and exhausts us and needs to be rested is sin. With this new way, man receives God’s grace which saves him as it did the Paralytic. Christ said to him Arise, The Church, interpreting the miracle says in her hymns that “Christ as God and man gives a double cure to man”. When he says “arise” he means arise according to the body and according to the soul. Christ is not interested only in one part of man but in all of man. And the Paralytic arose completely; according to the body from his bed and according to his soul from the passions of sin.

So now the Paralytic is no more the Paralytic; he has received from Christ mercy, grace and his own resurrection. But there is one more thing he must do of his own free will: he must not walk carelessly, but walk in all righteousness the ways of the Lord so that his soul may continue to live the resurrection it received from its fall. From the reading it appears that the paralysis of his body was the result of his soul being first paralyzed through the transgression of the divine commandments. That is why when Christ met him again in the temple he says to him: “Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.” This is something that we should all think on: that sin is the greatest paralysis which obstructs our movement towards God which is our destination.

With the fifth Sunday and the story of the Samaritan woman we do not have a miracle but another aspect and message of the resurrection. The reading is very long and we don't have the time to look at all the reading in detail but let's look at who the Samaritans were and how the story links to the resurrection. The Samaritans claimed that they were descendants of Abraham and were true Israelites and direct descendants of the Northern Israelite tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, who survived the destruction of the Northern kingdom of Israel.  The Jews despised the Samaritans because of their religious convictions, because they adopted the Jewish faith and contaminated it with pagan rituals and also because they claimed that Mt. Gerezim was the true mountain of God and not Jerusalem, insisting that it was the mountain where Abraham was called to sacrifice his son Isaac. On the other hand the Samaritans resented the Jews because they refused to accept them as true Israelites.

The Gospel reading tells us that Jesus came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near to the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. At that place was a well called Jacob's well. There he met a Samaritan woman and he asks her to give him some water. The woman was surprised that a Jew spoke to her because it was forbidden for Jews to have any dealings with the Samaritans. After a dialogue between the two the woman believes that Jesus is the expected Messiah and she calls other members of her community to meet him. They invite him to stay with them for a couple of days and they also believe that he is the Messiah. The connection with the resurrection is that the Samaritans and especially the woman received spiritual enlightenment. Before they met with Christ they had a cocktail faith mixed with Judaism, paganism and their own traditional stories of where they should worship. As far as faith was concerned they didn't know what they believed, but after meeting with Christ they were enlightened with the truth; they received salvation and were resurrected from their blind faith to the kingdom of God. Another message we receive from the story is that Christ did not come to save only the Jews, but came for all peoples.    

This brings us to the sixth and last Sunday of Pascha which is this coming Sunday. It is called the Sunday of the Blind Man because the Gospel reading is the account of Jesus’ miracle of the man who was born blind. Before we look at how it connects with the resurrection I would like to read the story as found in St. John's Gospel. It's rather a long reading so please bear with me. 

“At that time, as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world. When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation, Sent.) He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing. The neighbours therefore, and they which before had seen him that he was blind, said, Is not this he that sat and begged? Some said, This is he: others said, He is like him: but he said, I am he. Therefore said they unto him, How were thine eyes opened? He answered and said, A man that is called Jesus made clay, and anointed mine eyes, and said unto me, Go to the pool of Siloam, and wash: and I went and washed, and I received sight. Then said they unto him, Where is he? He said, I know not. They brought to the Pharisees him that aforetime was blind. And it was the sabbath day when Jesus made the clay, and opened his eyes. Then again the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. He said unto them, He put clay upon mine eyes, and I washed, and do see. Therefore said some of the Pharisees, This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day. Others said, How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles? And there was a division among them. They say unto the blind man again, What sayest thou of him, that he hath opened thine eyes? He said, He is a prophet. But the Jews did not believe concerning him, that he had been blind, and received his sight, until they called the parents of him that had received his sight. And they asked them, saying, Is this your son, who ye say was born blind? how then doth he now see? His parents answered them and said, We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind: But by what means he now seeth, we know not; or who hath opened his eyes, we know not: he is of age; ask him: he shall speak for himself. These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue. Therefore said his parents, He is of age; ask him. Then again called they the man that was blind, and said unto him, Give God the praise: we know that this man is a sinner. He answered and said, Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see. Then said they to him again, What did he to thee? how opened he thine eyes? He answered them, I have told you already, and ye did not hear: wherefore would ye hear it again? will ye also be his disciples? Then they reviled him, and said, Thou art his disciple; but we are Moses' disciples. We know that God spake unto Moses: as for this fellow, we know not from whence he is. The man answered and said unto them, Why herein is a marvellous thing, that ye know not from whence he is, and yet he hath opened mine eyes. Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth. Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind. If this man were not of God, he could do nothing. They answered and said unto him, Thou wast altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us? And they cast him out. Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God? He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him? And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee. And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him.” (John 9: 1-38)

The story begins just after Christ had left the temple and passing by he meets a man who was born blind. Blindness is one of the greatest human tragedies. Even the most faithful of men will at some time break down and say: why has this tragedy happened to me? Why can I not see the sun shining or the moon glowing? Why can I not discern when it is day and when it is night? Why can I not see an image of him who fashioned me in his image?

Bodily blindness is indeed a great tragedy, but there are two kinds of blindness’ just as there are also two kinds of sights. There is blindness of the soul which is a far greater tragedy than blindness of the body. The story of the blind man reveals to us these two kinds of blindness’ and also how the eyes of the soul can see even though the eyes of the body are blind.

The blind man is deprived of sight because he has no eyes, but at the same time his soul is blind because he doesn’t know Christ and as yet has not the light of his grace. But he had humility. The pain of being blind contributed to making him humble. If arrogance brings darkness, humility brings light. The blind man was free of the envy and arrogance of the Pharisees. His soul was untarnished and he had good intentions; in other words his soul was in a condition to accept the enlightening grace of God.
Christ meets him without him having asked for help. From what he later said to the Pharisees we can understand that he never ever had the slightest hope of ever receiving his sight. “Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind.” Christ knows the inner man, he knows that the blind man has the requirements to receive the miracle, but at the same time gives him the opportunity to show his virtues. He begins the miracle, but asks for the blind man’s participation to bring about the desired result. He spits on the ground and makes a paste with the spittle and anoints the eyes of the blind man with the clay, and says to him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam; and having done so he received his sight. The whole act seems so simple yet in it is hidden divine power, mystery and wonder. It reminds us of the account in Genesis where God with earth from the ground created man. It shows us that both then and now the creator was the same. Then he created him and now he has come to recreate him and make him divine. With the clay he completes and moulds that which was missing from the eyes of the blind man, by touching them with his creating and miraculous fingers.
What happened to the blind man was truly a divine act which surpasses the human logic. If mud is put into the eyes of someone that can see it can cause him blindness. Mud can never be used as a cure for blindness, but in the hands of God it becomes material for the miracle of creating sight.

The touch of Christ’s fingers, the spit and whatever else comes from his divine body are a source of miracles. That is why there is a need for faith which surpasses the human element and gives itself entirely to Christ. This is what the blind man did. Because he is humble, he resigns from his own logical reasoning and gives himself over to Christ and does whatever he commands him to do. He believes which a pure and untainted soul that the divine mind is far superior to human logic. Whatever Christ said or did to him, no matter how strange and illogical they may have appeared to his own logic, he believed they were wise and perfectly true. He may have had the eyes of his body closed, but the eyes of his soul were opened to Christ. When God acts, the faithful person accepts and does not ask why and how are these things done. He submits and obeys. This kind of faith, draws divine grace and opens the eyes of the body and also the eyes of the soul. That is why we see that the blind man willingly accepts to be anointed with the clay on his eyes thus showing his faith with obedience to Christ. He goes to the pool of Siloam, he washes and he sees. He understands that if the clay and the water of Siloam had been used by someone else, they would not have cured him. They had no miraculous powers by themselves. Here some other power, some other healing grace acted through the clay and water and that was Christ’s spit and the touch of his fingers.

Christ granted him the light of his bodily eyes, but also the light of his spiritual eyes. His faith, the pureness of his soul, his attitude towards the arrogant Pharisees reveal that his inner self had given itself over to Christ. This dedication is the result of the sight of the inner eyes which is a far greater event than the sight of his bodily eyes. The eyes of the spirit become enlightened so that man can live a life according to God. Everywhere the Blind man proclaims the miracle and him who made it possible: he says again and again that “whereas I was blind, now I see.” The enlightening of his soul is the visitation of the grace of the Holy Spirit which is his calling to live according to God and to have a continual relationship and communion with God.

The devil’s endeavour is to stop the Blind man’s and every man’s journey towards Christ. With the person of the Blind man the devil through the Pharisees makes war against Christ because he worked on the Sabbath day when he spat and made clay from the spittle. They would have preferred that the blind man was not cured rather than Christ making clay from the spittle on the Sabbath. How blind is envy and every other sin! For the Pharisees, not only is Christ not God but he is also a transgressor of the Law. If bodily blindness is a serious handicap because it is the absence of the sense of light, how much more serious is the blindness of the soul of which the Pharisees suffered. Arrogant and self-asserting, they had the feeling of being self sufficient and didn’t have the need of the merciful Lord. That is why they delivered him to the cross and death. They never once believed in his miracles like the one made on the blind man. They tried to discredit it by saying that it was impossible for a transgressor of the Law to be from God and perform miracles. Their heart, their mind was continually in the darkness of sin and satanic pride and therefore refused every opportunity for a relationship with Christ and remained without divine grace. As Christ said “For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light.” (John 3:20) They have no need of Christ: the material world is enough for them.
The former blind man is slandered and dishonoured by the Pharisees as they also dishonoured Christ. Not only do they not accept Christ as God but neither do they accept a righteous person. They consider him a sinful man. They talk condescendingly of Christ and also of the Blind man when they tell him: “You are his disciple; but we are Moses' disciples.” The blind man becomes a disciple of Christ. When he asks the Pharisees “will you also be his disciples?” he means that he is. That is why he conducts himself as a true disciple. He receives a taste of Christ’s cross, because he accepts with patience the slander, the contempt and the persecution when they threw him out of the temple. With boldness he rejected all the accusations made against Christ without fearing the leaders of the people. In spite of the war waged against him, not only is his faith not undermined, but he remained loyal in his love for his benefactor. He remains in God and God in him. Christ said that whosoever will confess me before men, him will I also confess before my Father which is in heaven.

The blind man is included among those who Christ will confess because he confessed him before the rulers who hated Christ and could have done him harm. The boldness with which he confessed Christ reveals the great extent of his souls purification and the enlightenment it received by the Holy Spirit. That is why he was not afraid of the rulers of Israel as were his parents who didn’t confess Christ because they were afraid of being put out of the Synagogue. The blind man is prepared to pay the greatest cost for his benefactor; he is prepared to take up his cross and follow him and become a partaker of his passions. When Christ will come in his glory, he will crown the blind man and all his confessors and will find them worthy to be placed on his right side with the righteous. The blind man will see God and the Pharisees will be blind because they remained glued to the letter of the Law and couldn’t release themselves from their arrogance to see that Christ was the giver of the law.

Christ meets the disciple and confessor to give him strength and support him in the war that the Pharisees waged against him. Him whom the Pharisees slandered and threw out of the temple is accepted with open arms by the Lord of the angels; the Son of God. He honours him by speaking with him. He says to him: “do you believe in the Son of God?” not on man, but in God incarnate. And the blind man answers: Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him? And Jesus reveals himself to him and says: “You have seen him, and it is he that now talks with you, he is standing in front of you and in him dwells God, the Word of the Father.

And he saw him not only with his bodily eyes but also with the eyes of his soul. And the blind man said: “Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him.” He worshipped him because he believed that he was God. Now we can understand Christ’s words at the beginning of this Gospel reading when he said: “that he was born blind so that the works of God should be made manifest in him”.

As with the other readings, the connection with the resurrection is that the Blind man was given a new life, a new beginning. With the clay Christ re-created him and resurrected him from a life in darkness to a new life in God's light. That is the meaning of Christ's resurrection. He re-created us to live a life in the light of his resurrection with the promise that we also will receive a resurrection.