St. Ephrem on the Man Born Blind

The Gospel of the healing of the man born blind (John 9) is in our Orthodox Church read as one of the Post-Paschal Sunday lessons.  Like many of the Gospel Lessons in this period of the Pentecostarion, it is related to the theme of baptism – the lesson begins with   a discussion of sin, the blind man then washes in the pool of Siloam and he is healed, and  he comes to a full faith in Jesus as the Son of God.

Since the man was born blind, his sight is not being restored, but rather he is being given the gift of sight for the first time in his life.  Some of the Patristic writers in the Syrian tradition interpreted this to mean that a new act of creation was done by Christ – where something before did not exist, now new eyes exist.    St. Ephrem of Syria “understands that the blind man healed in John 9:6 had been born without any pupils.  The miracle is thus not just of healing, but constitutes an act of creation…”  (S. Brock and G. Kiraz,   EPHREM THE SYRIAN: SELECT POEMS, p 47).  As baptism bestows upon us the grace of new creation, so the blind man experiences being created anew through his encounter with Christ.  St. Ephrem writes in one of his poems:

“He has renewed the heaven, because foolish men

Had worshipped all kinds of stars; He has renewed the earth

Which had grown old in Adam.  With his spittle

There took place a novel fashioning:

He who is capable of all things puts aright both bodies and minds.”

The theme of the new creation is an idea we find in the New Testament, an idea which grew in Christianity as the work of Christ was considered.  For the Christian tradition in the Orthodox East understood Christ the Word of God to be the one who created the world in the beginning (Psalm 33:6 –  “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made…”), and by His presence on earth as Jesus Christ to be renewing that fallen creation.

Christians participate in the new creation through their own baptisms.

St. Ephrem continues:

“He is the Creator’s Son, whose treasure stores are filled

With every benefit.  He who needs pupils,

Let him approach him:

He will fashion mud, and transform it,

Fashioning flesh and giving light to the eyes.

With a little mud he showed how, through Him,

Our dust was fashioned; the soul of the dead man, too, 

Bore witness to Him how, by Him, man’s breath

Is breathed into him.  By these latter witnesses

He is to be believed to be the Son [of God], the First Principle.” 

(pp 57, 58)

As the footnote in the text explains:

“Ephrem along with several other early commentators, understood that the man whose sight was healed in John 9 had been born without pupils, thus making it a miracle involving creation, rather than just healing.” (p 57)

Just as the Word of God created the first human from the dust of the earth, so Jesus the incarnate Word takes the dust of the fallen creation, mixes it with His spittle and anoints the eyes of the man born blind, creating for him new pupils so that for the first time the man born blind could see.

And he who was seated on the throne said,

“Behold, I am making all things new.”

(Revelation 21:5)

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