Departure Times

14272179892_9901f134e6_nThis past Thursday we commemorated in the Church the Ascension of our Lord – 40 days after resurrecting from the dead, Jesus ascended into heaven.  According to the hymns of our church the Apostles were dismayed at the Lord’s departure, even despondent.  Yet, as I mentioned in my sermon for the Ascension, Jesus had told us it was necessary for Him to leave us to prepare our place in the Kingdom (John 14).  He said, if we love Him we will rejoice that He returns to His Father.  The implication is if we feel despondent, feel like we are being orphaned, then we do not really love Him, rather we are more in love with ourselves.

We are to seek in the event of the Ascension that which allows to rejoice in Christ’s departure from us – the knowledge that Christ’s being with the Father is necessary for our salvation and more important than His being physically present as a human on earth.  We think it is more important for Christ to be with us, Christ tells us we should rejoice that instead He is with the Father.   This is the value of the up-side-down Kingdom of God.    Blessed are those who mourn for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 5:4).

4587917216_dd3821f5cd_nIn the Epistle reading today (Acts 20:16-36), St. Paul also makes a farewell speech to his friends and followers.  That scene reminded me of the last chapter of Deuteronomy and the end of Moses’ life.  I love Moses and his story.  God calls him to lead Israel, Moses says no thanks, send someone else.  God imposes on Moses that he is to lead Israel out of Egypt, to confront one of the greatest military powers on earth and to walk away from them.  No slave rebellion, no war, just liberation – walk away from one of the greatest civilizations on earth and go into the desolate desert.  Moses does all these things and the people show time and again that they don’t like Moses as their leader.  But Moses persists and when God Himself gets disgusted with the people and tells Moses to step aside because He is going to destroy those rebellious people, Moses stands before God and intercedes for these iniquitous people, and tells God if you aren’t going to save them, then don’t save me either.  Moses risks his eternal life and his relationship with God for the very people he didn’t want to lead in the first place and who don’t particularly like him.  In the end, God gets angry at Moses and after Moses led the people for 40 years, God tells Moses that he will not be permitted to enter the promised land.  All that work and sacrifice and Moses dies without reaching the promised land.  But he did his best to be faithful to the commission given to him by God.

And Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho. And the LORD showed him all the land, Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain, that is, the valley of Jericho the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar. And the LORD said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.”  (Deut 34:1-4)

25210883198_a8c8ee7cb4_nSt Paul, reports in today’s lesson from the Acts of the Apostles that he has faithfully led the people, suffered for them and because of them, and now reached a point where he must say goodbye to them as God showed him that he must follow a path to his own martyrdom.  He knows what lies ahead but also knows this is the path that God wants him on.   So he says farewell to the people he worked so hard to form into a Christian community.  St Paul is able to say that he faithfully did his task, and now he realizes his path leads him in a different direction, so he now has to entrust his congregation to God’s own spirit because He, Paul, will  no longer be leading them.  He trusts God to be guiding all things.

 “You yourselves know how I lived among you all the time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which befell me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance to God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, bound in the Spirit, not knowing what shall befall me there; except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may accomplish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that all you among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom will see my face no more. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.

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Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities, and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by so toiling one must help the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.‘”

Thirty three years ago in June I came to Dayton to begin serving as the first priest of a mission.  God has blessed this work and given it growth.  I am following St. Paul’s lead to tell you that my time with you is also coming to an end.  I will be retiring at the end of August.  Like St Paul, I realize God has His own plan for me and it requires me to move in a new direction. I am not giving you my farewell speech since there are still a couple months that we will be together.  Bishop Paul will soon announce on the Diocesan webpage that he is seeking a priest to come to our parish.   It will be another time of growth for the parish. St. Paul’s own words come to mind:

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are equal, and each shall receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it. Let each man take care how he builds upon it.  For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

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Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?  (1 Corinthians 3:5-16)

The Ascension: No Barrier to Heaven Ever Again

The Feast of the Ascension of our Lord

Acts 1:1-12

To see heaven open”: For Fr. Boris, these four words signify the very mystery of Christ, of the Christian faith and hope. “For we have the certainty that heaven, which opened three times in the unfolding of the mystery of salvation, remains henceforth open forever. Nothing and no one can reconstruct the barrier that the sin of the first man erected between God and man. No one can excavate again the abyss which Jesus has filled between heaven and earth.”

(Fr. Boris Bobrinskoy, The Compassion of the Father, p. 32)

Blind from Birth, Able to See the Truth

“Your eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is sound, your whole body is full of light; but when it is not sound, your body is full of darkness. Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.”  (Luke 11:34-36)

The Gospel lesson of the man born blind, John 9:1-38, offers us “insight” into how and why each and every human needs to see the Light of Christ in order to know God (see also my blog Before, The Man Born Blind, and After).  Orthodox hymns based on the Gospel lesson reveal a great deal about the world we live in.  “Seeing” is not just done with the eyes in our head, for we can also see (or understand) with the eyes of our heart.  Those who see spiritually might be physically blind, but they are better off than those who see only with their eyes – especially true since divinity itself cannot be seen with the eyes.  Three hymns based on the Gospel lesson of Christ’s healing the man who was born blind:

THE MAN ONCE BLIND SAW THAT THOSE WITH SIGHT WERE TRULY BLIND, DARKENED IN HEART, MIND AND SOUL, FOR WHEN THEY SAW THAT HE SUDDENLY WAS ABLE TO SEE, THEY QUESTIONED HIM WITH PERSISTENCE: HOW IS IT POSSIBLE FOR YOU NOW TO SEE THE LIGHT OF DAY?  YOU WERE BLIND FROM BIRTH.  YOU SAT ON THE ROADSIDES AND BEGGED!  HE TOLD THEM WHO HAD GIVEN HIM SIGHT, AND IN THE MIDST OF THEIR DARKENED ASSEMBLY HE CONFESSED YOU: THE SON, BEGOTTEN OF THE FATHER BEFORE THE AGES, WHO FASHIONED THE LIGHTS OF THE UNIVERSE, AND IN THESE LAST DAYS, IN YOUR COMPASSION, BY THE HOLY SPIRIT, FROM THE VIRGIN MARY, DAWNED UPON THE WORLD AS A MORTAL MAN! 

In the hymn above we see that ‘blindness’ is not only physical – we can be blinded by being “darkened in heart, mind and soul.”  While this describes an interior blindness in some individuals, we can suffer from a group blindness when we accept the viewpoint of an “darkened assembly” of people to whom we belong.  “Group think” can blind us to what can be clearly see if we take off our social blinders.  Christ not only created the sun, moon and stars to give physical light to the world, He is the Light of the world which has dawned for all people.

THE MASTER AND CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE MET THE MAN BORN BLIND WHO SIGHED AND SAID: I HAVE NEVER IN MY LIFE SEEN THE BRILLIANCE OF THE SUN, NOR HAVE I SEEN THE BRIGHTNESS OF THE MOON!  THEREFORE I CRY OUT TO YOU, LORD BORN OF THE VIRGIN: AS YOU ENLIGHTEN THE WHOLE WORLD, IN YOUR MERCY, ALSO GIVE LIGHT TO YOUR SERVANT THAT I MAY BOW BEFORE YOU, CHRIST OUR GOD, AND SAY: GRANT ME FORGIVENESS OF MY SINS, FOR YOU ALONE ARE GOOD AND THE LOVER OF MANKIND!

Christ “enlightens the whole world” both with the sun He created at the beginning but also by Himself being the light of the world.  We each need that light of Christ in our lives.  A baby in the womb has eyes but lacks the light to see.  When we are born into the world we can see the light of the sun, but in Christ we are born so that we see Christ as the light of the world.  Our physical eyes do not allow us to see everything in this world.  We need the spiritual light to see spiritual truth.

THE LAMP OF THE BODY IS THE EYE, AND YOU ARE YOURSELF THE SOUNDNESS OF HUMAN SIGHT, O WORD OF GOD!  FROM A MIXTURE OF SPITTLE AND DUST YOU RESTORED THE BLIND MAN’S SIGHT!  YOUR FINGERS ANOINTED HIS EYES: MUD BRINGS VISION INEFFABLE WONDER!  FROM HIS BIRTH, HE NEVER SAW THE SUN, NOW HIS FIRST SIGHT IS YOU, THE SWEET SUN OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, THE IMAGE OF THE FATHER, WHO CREATED US IN HIS BOUNDLESS COMPASSION.

The eye may be the lamp of the body but it is Christ Himself who is the “soundness of human sight.”  We can see physically even without Christ, but our sight is made whole by Christ who takes away every kind of blindness including spiritual.  Spiritually speaking, we have to remove from our eye every obstacle that we are able to remove so that Christ can heal us and give us that more perfect vision which allows the pure in heart to see God (Matthew 5:8).

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.  (Luke 6:41-42)

 

Before, The Man Born Blind, and After

The Gospel lesson of John 9:1-38 which gives us a narrative of Jesus healing a man blind from birth.  It is one of the Post-Pascha Sunday Gospel themes and so continues exploring in the Orthodox liturgical context the Resurrection of Christ.  The blind man is told by Christ to wash in the pool of water–a baptismal theme  important for the continued spiritual development of those new Christians who had just been baptized at Pascha.

In the Orthodox Church on this Post-Paschal Sunday we read John 9:1-38.  It is worth considering the verses right before and after that pericope as they help set the context of the Gospel lesson and give it additional meaning.  The scripture just before the blind man pericope, John 8:56-59, takes place in the Temple precinct and has Jesus saying to the Jews:

Your father Abraham rejoiced that he was to see my day; he saw it and was glad.” The Jews then said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they took up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple.

The text relates a debate which occurs between Jesus and His interlocutors regarding the interpretation of Scripture.  Jesus maintains throughout His ministry that the Old Testament Scriptures are mostly a prophecy about Himself (see for example John 1:45John 5:39-47, Luke 24:25-49).   Jesus says Abraham spiritually saw ‘Christ’s’ day – He is making the claim that the way to read Torah is as a prophecy of Christ, but those debating with Him see the Torah more as Law or the Teaching about how to live rather than as prophecy referentially pointing to something or someone else.  Those arguing with Jesus not only disagree with Jesus about how to understand the Torah but they don’t at all understand Jesus.  They hear Jesus say ‘Abraham saw my day‘, but then twist His words around and incredulously challenge him as they know He is lying if He claims He has seen  Abraham.  But Jesus is telling them the Torah is prophecy (that is how Abraham saw Jesus), and Abraham was a prophet looking for the Messiah.  This is not something all Jews believed.   So they are rejecting Jesus’ interpretation of Torah and denying that the Torah is what Jesus says it is – prophecy of the coming Messiah.  Jesus tries to show them what Torah is about but they refuse to see.

The narrative of the man born blind is preceded by a question about what is Torah? and Who can interpret it?  The Jews are arguing the Torah tells them how to live, Jesus says Torah helps them see and He claims to be the light of the world.  In other words, Torah reveals Him and He reveals the meaning of Torah.

After this discussion, Jesus leaves the temple:   The temple was a sign of God’s presence in Israel — the Temple itself was a place for the people to encounter God, to encounter God’s message, to hear God’s prophecy, God’s word and to know what God is doing.  But in the temple the people have just shown they can’t see God there and aren’t interested in what God is doing and are not willing to hear what God’s message is.  Thus, they want to stone Jesus.  Torah offered them an encounter with the living God, but they turned it into words carved into stone (so too their minds and hearts turned to stone!  See  2 Corinthians 3).

In this Gospel lesson it is outside the temple that Christ gives sight to the blind man.  It is outside the temple that the blind man’s eyes are recreated.  Outside the temple  Jesus proclaims Himself to be the light to the world.  Those in the temple are still in darkness as is shown above in the conversation they have with Jesus.  In the temple they remain spiritually blind.  The Great Temple in Jerusalem with all its correct liturgical ritual fulfilling Torah and claims of being the place where God dwells on earth did not give sight to the blind, nor to the spiritual leaders of the Jews.  Without Christ, even with the Temple and even within the Temple,  there is spiritual blindness – the people cannot see what God is doing.   So Jesus says: “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.”  Those in the temple are judged, it is outside the temple that people are enabled to see what God is doing, in fact to see God.

Jesus claims to be the light of the world.  It is in Jesus and through Jesus that we see what God is doing.  When we see the Torah as prophecy we see what God is doing, we see Christ.  The Temple itself turns out to be no help to us in knowing God.

John 9:1-38

As he 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.

[“Wash in pool of Siloam” – these words from the Gospel are being used liturgically in Orthodoxy as being a reference to baptism.  Baptism is not just for forgiveness of sins, but also for the healing of soul and body, it gives spiritual enlightenment, displays God’s work in our life, renews and regenerates godliness in us.  As we pray in the Baptism service:  “But show this water, O Master of all, to be the water of redemption, the water of sanctification, the purification of flesh and spirit, the loosing of bonds, the remission of sins, the illumination of the soul, the washing of regeneration, the renewal of the Spirit, the gift of adoption to sonship, the garment of incorruption, the fountain of life.

The neighbors 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, “The 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?” 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 any one 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 too 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 man, 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.

What becomes obvious in the Gospel lesson is that seeing is  is not done only with the eyes.  Seeing can also mean understanding; one sees spiritually as well.  The healed blind man “sees” not only who Jesus is but also sees that the trouble with Jewish leadership is not that they can’t see with their eyes – they see clearly but don’t like what they see and so choose to blind themselves.  They can see Jesus and what Jesus is doing, but they refuse to accept what they see.  This leads them to put an evil interpretation on what is right in front of their eyes.  They are willing to blind themselves to the truth because they don’t want to admit Jesus is God’s revelation, and that the Torah bears witness to Christ who is the light of the world. They don’t want what Jesus teaches to be true.

We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if any one is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that any one 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 would you teach us?” And they cast him out.

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 him.

The blind man did not see Jesus first when his eyes were opened.  Rather his eyes were given sight and only later did this man physically see Jesus.  In fact when he sees Jesus with his eyes, he does not recognize Jesus!  But even before he ever saw Jesus physically, the man born blind clearly could see who Jesus is –the Messiah!  When at the end of  the Gospel lesson,  Jesus is standing right in front of the cured blind man he does not know he is talking to Jesus.  He came to faith, came to see and recognize Jesus as Messiah with the eyes of his heart, with faith, before he ever laid eyes on Jesus.  He sees the Messiah before he sees the man Jesus. That is the same way that any of us can see Jesus today.  The blind man is showing the way for all of us.  Even if we can’t physically see Jesus today we are like the man born blind and so can know who Jesus is and we can have him in our lives.  The Gospel is giving us encouragement – though we can’t see Jesus today, we know who He is and we know He is doing God’s will.  We know He is our salvation, our path to God, our union with God. We each are born blind, we don’t see Jesus, but we learn about Him, and even when we can’t see Him with our eyes we come to know Him and we come to see He is God’s Son and our Messiah in and through the saints and the Church.  As it turns out this person’s story is the story of each Christian.  This Gospel lesson is about you and you are in the Gospel.  The Gospel lesson tells us that physically seeing Jesus is of no advantage to a person – see also the account of the disciples who walk with the resurrected Jesus and don’t recognize Him in Luke 24.  Those living in the First Century have no advantage over us living in the 21st Century.  God is not visible to our eyes, but to our heart.  What we need to see is not the physical traits of Jesus but rather we need to see the Messiah, the incarnate God.  This is what an icon of Christ also reveals to us – not just a human, but the Messiah and Lord.

John 9:39-41

Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this, and they said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.

If we don’t see our Lord, it is because we choose not to.  We can’t just use our eyes for this, we have to use our heart, our faith, our love.  If we think Jesus is nothing but a nice man or a miracle worker, then we aren’t seeing Christ.

Two additional notes:

1]  Jesus says the man was born blind so that the works of God might be made manifest in him — we so often see our limits or handicaps as deficits which depress us that we aren’t like others.  But in this Gospel, we see that whatever we don’t like about ourselves might also be used to display God’s power in us, it can even serve to protect us from committing the sins that everyone else does.  God might help any one of us overcome our limits and shortcomings in order to display His power to others through us.  Don’t put yourself down or feel sorry for yourself because you are not like others or feel you are somehow aren’t as good as others.  God may be protecting you from making the mistakes and sins others do, or God may use your “weakness to accomplish” His will.  As St. Paul said of himself:

And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.  [ 2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

2]  “Why me?” that’s the common questions we ask when something goes wrong in our lives.  The disciples ask Jesus about the man born blind – Why him?  What did he do or what did his parents do?

We act as if we believe in magic – do good and nothing bad can happen to you.  Jesus refutes this attitude and acknowledges there is a spiritual warfare raging in the world.   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.”    Jesus says there is a war going on between light and darkness,  and He is here to bring light to the world.   The blind man’s condition is not the consequence of some petty sin but rather is part of the cosmic battle in which evil wants to destroy life.  We are able to see heaven opened and to see how Light overcomes darkness.  We are able to receive the Light that is not overcome by the night and to enter that Light.

 

What the Blind Man Sees

Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When He had said these things, He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva; and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay. And He said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which is translated, Sent). So he went and washed, and came back seeing. Therefore the neighbors and those who previously had seen that he was blind said, “Is not this he who sat and begged?” Some said, “This is he.” Others said, “He is like him.” He said, “I am he.” Therefore they said to him, “How were your eyes opened?” He answered and said, “A Man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed, and I received sight.” Then they said to him, “Where is He?” He said, “I do not know.” They brought him who formerly was blind to the Pharisees. Now it was a Sabbath when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also asked him again how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” Therefore some of the Pharisees said, “This Man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.” Others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them. They said to the blind man again, “What do you say about Him because He opened your 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 who had received his sight. And they asked them, saying, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does 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 sees we do not know, or who opened his eyes we do not know. He is of age; ask him. He will speak for himself.” His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had agreed already that if anyone confessed that He was Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” So they again called the man who was blind, and said to him, “Give God the glory! We know that this Man is a sinner.” He answered and said, “Whether He is a sinner or not I do not know. One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see.” Then they said to him again, “What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?” He answered them, “I told you already, and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become His disciples?” Then they reviled him and said, “You are His disciple, but we are Moses’ disciples. We know that God spoke to Moses; as for this fellow, we do not know where He is from.” The man answered and said to them, “Why, this is a marvelous thing, that you do not know where He is from; yet He has opened my eyes! Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him. Since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind. If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing.” They answered and said to him, “You were completely born in sins, and are you teaching us?” And they cast him out. Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when He had found him, He said to him, “Do you believe in the Son of God?” He answered and said, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” And Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.” Then he said, “Lord, I believe!” And he worshiped Him.  (John 9:1-38)

Two short meditations based on the Gospel lesson:

The healing of the man born blind highlights an essential and very practical implication of the incarnation. God is pure spirit. But when God the Word united himself with his material creation, the spiritual acquired materiality, and conversely, the material was infused with the spiritual. (Daniel B. Hinshaw, Touch and the Healing of the World, p. 41)

…when we imagine what it could have been when Christ healed the man born blind. He was born a blind child. He had lived all his life without ever seeing anything around him And the first thing that he saw was the face of God incarnate and the eyes of the divine Mercy and Love looking into his eyes. What an experience!  (Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, Churchiantiy vs. Christianity, p. 30)

The Seven Jars of Gold

A barber was passing under a haunted tree when he heard a voice say, ‘Would you like to have the seven jars of gold?’  He looked around and saw no one.  But his greed was aroused, so he shouted eagerly, ‘Yes, I certainly would.’  ‘Then go home at once,’ said the voice.  ‘You will find them there.’

The barber ran all the way home.  Sure enough, there were the seven jars–all full of gold, except for one that was only half full.  Now the barber could not bear the thought of having a half-filled jar.  He felt a violent urge to fill it or he simply would not be happy.

So he had all the jewelry of his family melted into coins and poured them into the half-filled jar.  But the jar remained as half-filled as before.  This was exasperating! He saved and skimped and starved himself and his family.  To no avail.  No matter how much gold he put into the jar it remained half-filled.

So one day he begged the king to increase his salary.  His salary was doubled.  Again the fight to fill the jar was on.  He even took to begging.  The jar devoured every gold coin thrown into it but remained stubbornly half filled.

The king now noticed how starved the barber looked.  ‘What is wrong with you?’ he asked.  ‘You were so happy and contented when your salary was smaller.  Now it has been doubled and you are so worn out and dejected.  Can it be that you have the seven jars of gold with you?’

The barber was astonished, ‘Who told you this, Your Majesty?’ he asked.

The king laughed.  ‘But these are the obvious symptoms of the person to whom the ghost has given the seven jars.  He once offered them to me.  When I asked if this money could be spent or was merely to be hoarded he vanished without a word.  That money cannot be spent.  It only brings with it the compulsion to hoard.  Go and give it back to the ghost this minute and you will be happy again.’ 

(Anthony De Mello, THE SONG OF THE BIRD, pp 134-135)

Seeking God Means God is Present

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but thou dost not answer; and by night, but find no rest.  (Psalm 22:1-2)

 How long, O LORD? Wilt thou forget me for ever? How long wilt thou hide thy face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; lighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death; lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him”; lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. But I have trusted in thy steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.  (Psalms 13:1-6)

Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the LORD has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his afflicted. But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.” “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have graven you on the palms of my hands …      (Isaiah 49:13-16)

Archimandrite Aimilianos comments:

“When we consider the anguish of the person who desires and seeks God, who feels deeply God’s absence, the same holds true. My anguish and my searching are themselves the presence of God in my life. To search for God means that I have already found Him, for God is already present in my searching. That I experience this anguish demonstrates that what I seek for truly exists and indeed is already with me, actively working inside me. Why, then, should I see anything other than this?” (Psalms and the Life of Faith, pp. 337-338)

 

First of all you must understand this, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own passions and saying, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of creation.” They deliberately ignore this fact, that by the word of God heavens existed long ago, and an earth formed out of water and by means of water, through which the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. . . . But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.  The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.  (2 Peter 3:3-9)

Memorial Day – Remembering the Dead or Remembering Death?

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May 27 is the American Memorial Day.  As a nation we honor those who sacrificed their own lives in service to the country and also all those who served in our military and who have passed away.  We remember those who on behalf of our nation died while making a heroic effort and those who sacrificed their lives for others.  Approximately 1.3 million Americans have died in our country’s wars since the founding of the nation.

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There are many Orthodox Christians among our nations war dead.  As Orthodox we pray for them, that God will forgive them their sins and remember them in His Kingdom.  If we read in our own tradition, we also encounter other ideas about remembrance and death.  St Hesychios wrote:

Whenever possible, we should always remember death, for this displaces all cares and vanities, allowing us to guard our intellect and giving us unceasing prayer, detachment from our body and hatred of sin. Indeed, it is a source of almost every virtue. We should therefore, if possible, use it as we use our own breathing.  (The Philokalia,  Kindle Loc. 5635-42)

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For St Hesychios, even beyond remember those who have died, the remembrance of death itself serves a good spiritual purpose in our lives.  When we remember that we all are going to die, we can be humbled into thanking God for life and in realizing so many pursuits in this life, which often so consume us, are not worth much on the ultimate scale.  If we remember our own mortality, we might deal with the important issues of repenting, seeking forgiveness, forgiving, being compassionate to others.  If we remember our own mortality, we might realize that so many things people and nations pursue – to the point they are willing to kill to get them – are not things of eternal value or with godly meaning.  Strangely, remembering death might make us respect and value life all the more.

St. Peter Damaskos gives us other things to think about on memorial day:

I weep and grieve when I think of death and see man’s beauty, created by God in His own image, lying in the grave, ugly, abject, its physical form destroyed. What is this mystery that has befallen us? How have we been given over to corruption? How have we been yoked to death? Truly it is by God’s command, as it is written. Ah, what will I do at the moment of my death, when the demons encircle my unhappy soul, bearing the indictment of the sins I have committed, consciously or unconsciously, in word, act and thought, and demanding from me my defense?”  (THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 26863-67)

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St Peter in remembering the dead thinks about death itself and why it is that we humans created in God’s beautiful image die and experience the ugliness of corruption and decay.  Death reminds us of our own sins and sinfulness and the impending Judgment Day.  So for him too, the remembrance of death should be life-changing!  Knowing we will die and have to face God’s judgment means we should change how we live so that we make every effort to conform to God’s will.

We may also be saddened by the fact that while death occurs originally in Genesis because of sin, now we humans use death in an attempt to solve our problems on earth.  War, capital punishment, abortion, murder, all are things we chose to do to attempt to accomplish our own wills.  How did we come to this point?  That is partly what St Peter asks.

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Thus says the Lord: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him; for that means life to you and length of days, that you may dwell in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”  (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)