“Do good, and with a simple heart share the fruits of your labor which God gives to you with all those who are poor, not wondering to whom you should give and to whom you should not give. Give to all, for God wishes that you give to all from His gifts to you.”
As we honor the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council, we have to consider how they struggled so much with finding a vocabulary to express the revelation of God. They were trying to put into human words the divine: God’s self-revelation. This issue of finding a vocabulary to adequately express what God reveals exists in the Scriptures as well. Scholar Terence E. Fetheim notes:
Thus, for example, one needs to ask what speaking of God’s eyes and ears (2 Kings 19:16) adds to the understanding of the relationship of God to the world that living, seeing, and hearing do not. Such language makes the idea that God receives the world into himself vivid and concrete. God’s experience of the world is not superficial; God takes it in, in as real a way as people do who use their eyes and ears. At the same time, in ways that people do not, God takes it all in (Jer. 32:19), and not with fleshly eyes (Job 10:4).
Nevertheless, while examining each metaphor in its specificity is important, the general conclusions drawn continue to be significant. In addition to revealing God as living and personal, they testify to the intimate relationship between God and the world. ( The Suffering of God, p. 9)
The vocabulary we use in speaking about God is born from our experience of of God. God’s revelation is received by us, we encounter this revelation who is Christ and we are changed by it. The revelation is not ideas about God nor words about God, but rather the experience of God the Word.
The Christian doctrine of Trinity, in Gregory’s estimate, is therefore not an exercise in speculative metaphysical language, but an exposition of how the Church has experienced God within salvation history and, as such, how it prays. (John A. McGuckin, Seeing the Glory, p. 188)
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
O wonder! The Lord bade me stay my mind in hell and not despair. So close is He to us: “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world,” and “I will deliver thee; and thou shalt glorify me.” (St. Silouan the Athonite, p. 431)
In this way we live in God. We remove our life from this visible world to that world which is not seen by exchanging, not the place, but the very life itself and its mode. It was not we ourselves who were moved towards God, nor did we ascend to him; but it was He who came and descended to us. It was not we who sought, but we were the object of His seeking. The sheep did not seek for the shepherd, nor did the lost coin search for the master of the house; He it was who came to the earth and retrieved His own image, and He came to the place where the sheep was straying and lifted it up and stopped it from straying.
He did not remove us from here but He made us heavenly while yet remaining on earth and imparted to us the heavenly life without leading us up to heaven, but by bending heaven to us and bringing it down. As the prophet says, “He bowed the heavens also, and came down” (Ps. 18:10).
When time began its motion, darkness engulfed the earth.
God poetically spoke His animating Verse.
Mindfully Light dawned
Before the sun ruled the day or the stars the night.
Before creating eyes to see, even Darwin would agree,
There was light.
The Voice made both the light good and the good light
To illumine all things, before there was sight
Or a sun to shine.
The first eyes could see but childishly not comprehend.
The clever serpent promised they would be opened
She would see what she now believed God had hid.
Right then darkly the eyes of her heart closed
Could Eve still see the fruit was good?
Sightless eyes delighted in the Garden Tree.
Then, Adam and Eve hid what God gloriously clothed
Hoping to blind the Omniscient’s eyes.
He played along. “Where are you?”
Like young children covering their eyes,
With certainty to watchful parents mirthfully proclaim:
“You can’t see me” and truly believe the lie.
So Adam, so Eve hid among the trees
Covering themselves with the leaves
Convinced the Creator could not see them or their deed.
Gospel truth: In this sunlit world a man born
Without his ancestors’ eyes to see.
Eve faithlessly believed her eyes were closed, was deaf to the Light.
The sightless man listened to the Word
As only the blind can do with heightened sense he hears.
His eyes opened. He listened to Whom Eve would not.
The Invisible God can be seen?
With the eyes of faith
The Blind Man saw the Word
He had obeyed.
In time, Paradise was also opened
By the Light of the World.
The man called his wife’s name Zoe (Life), because she was the mother of all the living. (Genesis 3:20)
As we in America honor our mothers today, we remember that it is through women that we come into the world. Women have a unique role to play in the life of the world and are involved in God’s life-giving nature in a way that men cannot be. Even the life-giving incarnation of God, required a woman for our salvation. Males had no direct role in the incarnation itself, except to be in need of it for salvation. So motherhood itself is a necessary part of the salvation of every human being. Males cannot be saved without a woman, which is why all Christians should also honor, Mary, the Theotokos. As St Elizabeth shows in her own praise of Mary as “she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?“ (Luke 1:42-43) Elizabeth was overwhelmed that the Mother of the Lord should visit her.
However unique and great the role of motherhood is in the continuation of the human race and in the salvation of all humans, motherhood is not the only role women play in the life of the church. The ability to give birth is a unique role for women, but not the only role for women in the Church. Obviously the entire history of women monastics shows us that child birth is not essential for the salvation of women. There are many women who are saints in our Church, who were never mothers, nor even tried to be.
Women, including mothers, have the same path to salvation as men: through holiness. There are women Disciples of the Lord such as the Myrrhbearing Women. There are women who are proclaimed Equal to the Apostles (such Photini the Samaritan Woman and Helen the mother of Constanine). There are women who are titled Evangelizers (such as Nina of Georgia but also God chose women to serve as the first Evangelists – the Myrrhbearing Women carried the message to the male Apostles). In the Church calendar of saints there are women martyrs, confessors, ascetics, women prophets, deacons, teachers, rulers and monastics.
So while motherhood is a unique role for women in God’s creation and in the Church, it is not the only role for women. And few women are glorified as saints just for being mothers. The women saints of the Church are generally recognized for all the other roles they played in the life of the Church.
Mothers like all women can know the Lord. They can be saints and disciples because they can be imitators of Christ. Mothers give us life, but they can also be examples of how to love and live for eternal life. Giving birth is a natural thing, which may be why it is not always the way to holiness. We are a pro-life Church, and we honor our mothers because they show the sanctity of life in their pregnancies, in giving birth and in their rearing of children. Mothers reveal a unique relationship between themselves and the infants to whom they are giving life as well as to the life-givingness itself. Mothers are the human element in the birthing process. Mothers can be examples not only to their children, but to all women and men of how to follow Christ (Titus 2:3-4), to be His disciple, to experience His presence every day in the most mundane circumstances, in the most natural way. Jesus in fact says everyone who does the will of God becomes His mother (Mark 3:33-34). The holiness of motherhood lies in doing God’s will. And the children of believing mothers are considered to be holy (1 Corinthians 7:14) based on the mother’s faith.
In giving birth to us, in giving life to us, our mothers make it possible for us to experience God, to be in God’s presence. For this alone, we should thank and honor our mothers.
“We have an eloquent testimony to the ultimate restoration of the world from the great Syrian poet-theologian St. Ephrem:
At our resurrection, both earth and heaven will God renew,
liberating all creatures, granting them paschal joy, along with us.
Upon our mother Earth, along with us, did he lay disgrace
when he placed on her, with the sinner, the curse;
so, together with the just, he will bless her too;
this nursing mother, along with her children, shall he who is Good renew. “
(from Elizabeth Theokritoff, Living in God’s Creation, p. 38)
For those who have tasted of the Savior, the Object of desire is present. From the beginning human desire was made to be gauged and measured by the desire for Him, and is a treasury so great, so ample, that it is able to encompass even God. Thus there is no satisfaction, nothing stills the desire, even if men attain to all the excellent things in life, for we still thirst as though we had none of the things for which we long. The thirst of human souls needs, as it were, an infinite water; how then could this limited world suffice?
This is what the Lord hinted when He said to the Samaritan woman, “he who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst’ (Jn. 4:13-14). This is the water that slakes the thirst of human souls, for it says, “when I behold Thy glory I shall be satisfied with it” (Ps. 17:15 LXX). The eye was capable of perceiving light, the ear for sound, and each member for its appropriate end; the desire of the soul has for its object Christ alone.
Gospel of the Samaritan Woman: John 4:5-42
“And certainly, Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed in our place.” (1 Corinthians 5:7, (EOB)
“... the passover is not a type of the passion but a type of Christ Himself...” (Origen, 3rd Century)
From the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox until the Feast of the Ascension of our Lord, we Orthodox celebrate Pascha – the resurrection of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ. We sing the Paschal verses gloriously and joyfully showcasing “PASCHA“, the Pascha of the Lord:
Today, a sacred Pascha is revealed to us, A new and holy Pascha, A mystical Pascha, A Pascha worthy of veneration, A Pascha which is Christ the Redeemer, A blameless Pascha, A great Pascha, a Pascha of the faithful, A Pascha which has opened for us the gates of Paradise, A Pascha which sanctifies all the faithful.
Pascha of beauty, The Pascha of the Lord, A Pascha worthy of all honor has dawned for us. Pascha! Let us embrace each other joyously. O Pascha, ransom from affliction! For today as from a bridal chamber Christ has shown forth from the tomb and filled the women with joy saying: Proclaim the glad tidings to the apostles.
And one thing that becomes clear is that Pascha, though being applied to the event of the Resurrection of Christ, is also Christ Himself. As we sing: “A Pascha which is Christ the Redeemer“. We could substitute in those hymns the word “Christ” or “Messiah” or the Name “Jesus” in each instance where “Pascha” appears. That would enrich our understanding of the hymn, of the Feast, of salvation and of Christ Himself. Pascha, like salvation, like Light, like the Word, like Love is a Who not a what: Jesus Christ. Pascha is not just an event, a Feast, the 8th day – for it is the revelation of our God in Christ. God has made “it” into our union with Him.
The idea is completely Scriptural. In 1 Corinthians 5:7 St. Paul calls Jesus Christ our Passover. [Often in the English translations of this verse they translate the text as “Paschal lamb“, but the word lamb is not in the Greek text, but is added by translators to try to make sense of the text to people for whom Pascha doesn’t mean much. The Eastern Orthodox Bible (EOB) and David Bentley Hart in his “A Translation of the New Testament” both translate the text to say Christ is our passover.]
The idea that Christ is our Passover is defended by the 3rd Century’s most famous Christian biblical scholar, Origen. As translator and scholar Robert Daly notes:
“Origen‘s central insight is that the passover is not a figure or type of the passion of Christ but a figure of Christ Himself, of Christ’s passing over to the Father (of which the passion was only a historical part) and, by reason of our incorporation into Christ, of our own still ongoing passing over with Christ to the Father.” (ORIGEN: TREATISE ON THE PASSOVER, pp 6-7)
When we read the Passover narrative in Exodus we are reading about Christ, not merely about history or just a prefiguring of the passion events. As Jesus teaches in John 5:46 – “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me.” [So too we find the same idea in Luke 24:27 (And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.) and in John 1:45 – (Philip found Nathanael, and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”) Moses wrote about Jesus, not just about history, nor prophecy, but about Jesus Christ.]
For Origen the Passover is not merely an historical event which happened in the past. Origen writes, “the Passover still takes place today.” We enter into the Passover, into Christ, in our own baptisms. The Passover is living, and life-giving, not some event that occurred long ago in history which we can only read about – nor something we “remember” in ritual. We participate in Christ, in the Passover, in salvation. It is Christ who makes Pascha, the Passover personal – His person to whom we are united, but also for each of us in our union with the incarnate God.
After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had. Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked. And that day was the Sabbath. The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, “It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed.” He answered them, “He who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your bed and walk.’” Then they asked him, “Who is the Man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?”But the one who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in that place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.” The man departed and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.
This Gospel speaks about obeying God rather than looking for mere miracles/magic in one’s life, and not making rules and rubrics more important than God Himself.
But this command I gave them, ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people; and walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’ (Jeremiah 7:23)
The Paralytic heard the voice of God when Christ spoke to him and he obeyed the voice of God. Notice in the Gospel lesson Jesus doesn’t say anything about healing the paralytic. Jesus issues a command and the paralytic walks in the way that God commanded him – literally! He was made well – it was well with him – because the paralytic obeyed God’s voice. Hebrews 3:7-11 describes exactly what it is like when God’s people do not hearken to His voice:
Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their hearts; they have not known my ways.’ As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall never enter my rest.'”
The Paralytic did not harden his heart but rather he heard God’s voice and obeyed for immediately he got up and picked up his bed. He chose to obey this voice which apparently he recognized immediately as God’s – and as the events unfold it becomes obvious that prior to this, this man did not listen to God’s voice.
At the very end of today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus tells the healed paralytic, “Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.” This seems to imply that the paralytic had gotten himself into the condition in which he was in and had suffered for 38 years. Somewhere in his life, he had made choices that had long term consequences. He had been ignoring God’s voice for a very long time, but at this moment he changes his life.
But there is a message of hope – even if you are in the condition you are in because of your choices, it is possible to change, to make other choices, to get things right in your life. To learn from the past and to take path in life, even if late in life.
Jesus asks us as he asked the paralytic 2000 years ago, do you want to be made well? Are you willing to make the spiritual changes in your life to start on a new path – to start life over again? Are you willing to listen to the voice of God and walk in His ways?
Are you willing to change, or make the changes necessary for a new life?
And we can ask ourselves:
Do I want to give up my grudges, when I have not yet gotten vengeance on those who hurt me? Do I want to give up my righteous anger, when I have not vindicated? When I have not yet been validated by others recognizing the righteousness of my case?
Do I want to give up the pains, sorrows and excuses for my behavior? Or do I want to hold on to them because they help me justify my behavior?
Do I want to give up my lusts and desires? Or perhaps like St. Augustine I want to say, “Deliver me, O Lord, from my sexual lusts, but not just yet for I still enjoy them”?
We are human beings, we do have free will, free choice and personal responsibility. In any given situation we can rise above our biologically determined desires and say no to our self. We can choose a behavior, a morality, we can refuse to do something we feel driven to do – whether by hormones or emotions.
About 20 years ago a radio talk show psychologist said: “You know the final excuse that really gets my hackles to full quivering attention? It’s when callers protest that they are ‘only human.’ ONLY human? As if one’s humanness were a blueprint for instinctive, reflexive reactions to situations, like the rest of the animal kingdom. I see being ‘human’ as the unique opportunity to use our mind and will to act in ways that elevate us above the animal kingdom.” (Dr Laura Schlessinger, HOW COULD YOU DO THAT?, p 9)
The attitude of that psychologist fits well into Orthodox spirituality which sees us humans as being specially gifted by God precisely to rise up above our animal nature. It doesn’t deny that we have animal desires, instincts, genetics. It just says but God has blessed us with hearts and minds that can choose to rise above the limits of our animal nature.
We are indeed dealt some things in life – our genes or even our epi-genetic make-up, the time and place of our birth, the family we are raised in. We have no control over these things and they do influence our lives.
However, our situations in life are not completely determined by external conditions, they also result from our character, courage, morality, values, life-style and choices.
It is possible for us to change many things about ourselves and the choices we make.
St. Symeon the New Theologian writes: “Baptism does not take away our free will or freedom of choice, but gives us the freedom no longer to be tyrannized by the devil unless we choose to be. After baptism it is in our power either to persist willingly in the practice of the commandments of Christ, into whom we were baptized, and to advance in the path of His ordinances, or to deviate from this straight way and to fall again into the hands of our enemy, the devil…. We are created good by God – for God creates nothing evil – and we remain unchanging in our nature and essence as created. But we do what we choose and want, whether good or bad, of our own free will.”
Jesus calls us to grow and to change:
A Call to repentance
Call to forgiveness
Call to the truth
Call to love.
Each of these are telling us to change, to become what we are not yet. Each is a call to be courageous enough to be human – rise above your instincts, your desires, your DNA and become what God created every human to be – God like.
We, like the paralytic, need to hear God’s voice, recognize it as God’s, and to walk in His ways.