Forty days after His glorious Resurrection, our Lord took the disciples out to the Mount of Olives and there gave them some final instructions and a blessing. As He blessed them, He began to rise from earth to heaven, ascending in glory to sit on the right hand of the Father and to await our coming to Him in heaven. As they watched Him ascend, an angel appeared to them, reassuring them of the promise that just as they saw Him go, so also He will come again to take those who follow Him to Himself. Having received this promise, the disciples then left the mountain and returned to Jerusalem. What now? What would they do with this great gift they had received? Certainly they had two great promises which to hold onto – that Jesus would come again and the promise that in a few days He would send upon them the Holy Spirit Who would empower them and guide them in the proclamation of the Gospel throughout the world. But, still there was uncertainty.
One thing, however, was certain, and that was that the Tree of Life, which had been cut off from mankind when our first parents sinned and were exiled from the Garden of Eden, has been restored to us. Once more we can partake of the divine Life of Christ in the Holy Mysteries of His Body and Blood. Though they had nothing else at this time, still they were sustained by this great Mystery. The source of Life is restored to us, the doors of heaven have been opened again and our Lord invites us to this great banquet saying, “Whoever eats of My Flesh and drinks My Blood has eternal life and I will raise Him up at the last day.” Here we have the key element of the fulfillment of the promises of Christ; as we partake of the His most holy Body and most precious Blood, His Life is communicated to us – that same Life that is found in the coming of the Holy Spirit; and having received that Life within us, by this we will be raised up at the last day.
See how vital is the reception of this great Mystery. It cannot be neglected, indeed it is necessary for our salvation. We should take every opportunity to receive this great Mystery, never neglecting it for any reason. St Mary of Egypt, whose life we heard just a few weeks ago, received this Mystery as she departed into the desert and again at the end of her life; it was the one request she made of the Elder Zossima – to bring to her the Holy Mysteries. There is an account of a nun in Romania who was imprisoned during the communist domination of that country and she literally survived the entire time of her imprisonment eating nothing, only partaking of particles the Holy Body and Blood of Christ which had been secretly sewn into the lining of her clothing. This is the power and importance of the Holy Communion.
This Holy Food of the Tree of Life is prepared for us and offered to us – and now we must also prepare to receive it worthily. By preparation, I do not refer to the formal preparation of fasting, confession and prayer rules (which are certainly important and should not be neglected) but rather a greater preparation which involves the transformation of our whole lives. To demonstrate this, the Church holds up for us today the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical council. These holy fathers (318 bishops from throughout the known world) gathered to declare the truth of the incarnation. This became necessary because of a priest, Arius, who began to teach that Jesus Christ was not of the same essence as the Father. This council declared that which we now all confess together at each Divine Liturgy and every day as a part of our prayer rule: that is the Nicene Creed. “I believe in one God the Father almighty … and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten of the Father, begotten not made, of one essence with the Father…”
One might say, “Well yes this is true, but what does it have to do with my daily life – how does it impact me in my regular life?” To answer this, let us listen for moment to the heretic Arius as he explains the difference. “You Fathers, say, Christ is God-Man. His Divinity and His Manhood are unchangeable and indivisible; one is in the other, so that it is impossible to tell what is in what. There is no separation between God and Man. Therefore, you make the conclusion that a Christian must always and everywhere be a Christian – in his family life and in his social life – always and everywhere be a Christian. But I (Arius) say that Christ is God and Man. His Divinity and His Manhood are divisible in Him. And this gives us the right to also separate our life; in regard to religion to be Christians, to worship Christ; but in our private and civil life to live the way we want, as we lived before, in a pagan way.” This is it then, if Arius is right then we can separate out our Christianity from the rest of our lives – put our faith into a little cubbyhole and only pull it out when it is necessary to be “religious”. The rest of the time, we can be just like our neighbors and live a worldly life.
But the Fathers of Nicea answered Arius: “Then you, Arius, and your followers cannot be Christians. You do not understand the meaning of Christ’s coming down to earth. Christ was incarnate not only to reveal to us the true teaching about God, but also to live according to God. He came on earth to fulfill the commandment of love for God and neighbor. And he requires fulfillment of this commandment from us. Those who do not fulfill this commandment will remain pagans and will receive the same thing that pagans receive.” And here we see the importance of this dogmatic formula – because our Lord Jesus Christ is inseparably divine and human, so also we must become inseparably human and divine. Our whole lives must be transformed, we must struggle to no longer live like the world, but to live in the Life of Christ which is bestowed upon us by His Resurrection, by our Baptism, Chrismation and in the Holy Mysteries of His Body and Blood.
It is not possible for us to order our lives along the lines of the world – adopting worldly values and ideas, behaving in a “socially acceptable” and “law-abiding” manner. No, that’s not enough, we must be first, foremost and always Christians. We must order our lives according to the commandments of Christ – we must make our lives the living expression of the commandment to love God and love our neighbor. We must live according to our faith, acting on the basis of our belief and trust in God’s love and providence for us.
We are slowly but surely emerging from the disruption of our lives caused by the plague which has afflicted seemingly the whole world. We are encouraged to enact certain personal and social practices (social distancing, self-quarentine, good hygiene, wearing masks, etc) which certain experts say will preserve us from the plague and which in some cases are enacted as law by the government. As long as these do not overrule our Christian life – to love God and to love our neighbor – we should make the effort to comply. But these things are not what preserve us from the plague (or any danger for that matter) – the only thing that preserves us is the Life of Christ which we receive in His most Holy Body and in His most Precious Blood. Now, more than ever, we should make every effort to attend to the Divine Liturgy, to receive this great sacrament and to cooperate with the grace and action of the Holy Spirit to transform us into the likeness of Christ. To stay away from the Sacraments for “health reasons” or out of some sense of worldly “caution” is utter foolishness – for in doing so we defeat our very purpose. We cannot save our lives by avoiding the Life that God gives to us.
Brothers and sisters, every day we confess that our Lord Jesus Christ is God incarnate – fully God and fully man – His divinity being inseparable from His humanity. Let us live according to that faith and depend not on our own wisdom or the wisdom of the world for our well-being, but rather to place all our hope in the Lord our God Who has made heaven and earth and Who loves you as His own child and gave Himself for you that you might give yourself to Him. Receive the Life that He offers you and make it your own.
Notice: Due to the changes in yahoogroups, I will be moving my sermons onto a newly established blog on wordpress called "Pastoral Thoughts: Musings of a Village Priest" https://homilies2020.wordpress.com/ I will continue to use the yahoogroups for a few more months, but if you want to make sure that you get these sermons (and other random thoughts I might have), please subscribe to my blog. - Fr David
In this morning’s gospel lesson, we heard about a blind man being given his sight. In the gospel of Luke, our Lord quoted from the prophecy of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19) This prophecy was fulfilled on many occasions, and indeed Our Lord gave sight to the blind on more than one occasion. But the healing we heard about this morning was different than these other ones.
This healing was of a man who was born blind. He had never been able to see. Jesus uses clay to anoint the eyes of the man to show Himself to be the Creator who originally fashioned man from the clay of the earth. The eyes of the man born blind are made anew and allowed to behold the beauty of creation which points to its Creator. Saint Cyril of Alexandria, giving words to the unspoken thoughts of the blind man writes: “From now on I am able to look at things that formerly I could only hear about. Look! The bright light of the sun is shining around me. Look! The beauty of strange sights surrounds my eye. A short time ago I scarcely knew what Jerusalem was like. Now I see the temple of God glittering within it, and behold in its midst the truly venerable altar.” Saint Cyril assumes that the blind man’s new vision leads him to acknowledge the great skill of the creator based on the greatness of the created things he can now behold.
Having performed this miracle, the likes of which had never been seen since the world began, the Lord shows through this miracle that there is a greater blindness than lack of physical sight. The Pharisees ignored the great sign worked by Christ, they ignored the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah, and focused instead on the fact that it happened on the Sabbath. They interrogated the man and his parents in an effort to find fault with our Lord. The Blind man confessed Christ and worshipped him, the Pharisees could not even see that these signs and wonders testified to who Christ is. In response to their treatment of the blind man and his family, our Lord said “For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.” (John 9:39) The blind man could now see, the Pharisees were made blind by their rejection of the truth. And yet they still claimed to see. They stumble and fall because they cannot see, but still walk about as though they have perfect vision.
When the disciples asked who sinned that the man was born blind, the presumption was that this man’s blindness was a punishment. Our Lord is quick to say that it is for the glory of God. The lack of sight that he had before his healing is more than made up for by his physical sight being restored and his spiritual sight being illumined as well. Truly the spiritual sight is to be preferred over the physical sight. After the healing the blind man possesses both, while the Pharisees possess only the lesser gift.
We might assume than, that we should seek spiritual sight at all costs. However we see a warning against that in the Epistle this morning. We heard about a woman – a slave girl – who followed Saint Paul. She had a spirit of divination. She could see things that other people could not see. She brought gain to her masters by using this vision. Following Paul, she cried out "These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation." She had an ability to see that those around her did not have, but it’s source was evil. Even when she spoke the truth, it was to draw people to the demonic instead of to the Lord who is Truth itself. We must not seek after visions, after any kind of spiritual sight, but rather we must seek after the light itself.
But if even the demon-possessed can speak the truth, if the devil can appear as an angel of light, how are we to know whether our spiritual sight is from God or from the evil one? In the gospel of Saint Matthew, our Lord says, “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single (that is if our sight is focused solely and completely on God), thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!” Matthew 6:22-23 When we walk the path of Salvation, we walk to Christ who is the light of the world, and He illumines our path as we go. We focus on Him, and we walk in the way of His commandments.
We often refer to baptism as illumination. In Baptism, we find our eyes opened to this spiritual reality of the Kingdom of God. We are like the blind man as he first opened his eyes. We must look around us, taking into our eyes and our hearts all the wonders that our Creator has done. We must turn in worship toward our Creator. Having our eyes opened to the spiritual world only benefits us if we stay in the light. So we read the Scriptures which illumine our hearts with the incorruptible light of Divine knowledge. In them we learn about God, we learn His commandments. If we find that we can profess great and wonderful things about God, but we have no desire to pray or be in Church, or we have no love of our neighbor, if we exhibit pride in our dealings with others and in our spiritual labors, we know that even if our eyes are open we are not walking the right way. So we turn around, we repent. When we find ourselves not just feeling but showing love for our neighbor, when we don’t just say our prayers but really pray, when we don’t just keep the fast but use it to cut our enslavement to the passions, then we know that we are walking in the right direction.
The healing of the man born blind was a miracle that had never been seen before, but it pales in comparison to having spiritual vision. But when we are given this great gift of sight, we must use it not for the profit of the evil one, but for our salvation. We must use our vision to behold our great Creator and Savior, and to worship and glorify Him, walking in the way of His commandments.