Saturday, May 16, 2015

Opening the Eyes of our Souls to the Light of the Resurrection: Homily for the Sunday of the Blind Man in the Orthodox Church

              Probably all of us have the ability to know at a glance whether something looks right in some area of our work, our hobbies, or interactions with others.  By long experience of trial and error, we learn to see some things quite clearly.  We develop a good eye for them.    
            The glorious season of Pascha has opened the eyes of our souls in a very different way.   Like the blind man whom Jesus Christ healed in today’s gospel text, we share a lack of spiritual vision that cannot be overcome by more experience of the world as we know it.  For this blindness is a symptom of our collective and personal turning away from the union with God for which He created us.  It is the consequence of our continuing to prefer the ways of death to the ways of life.  We may learn to make out the shadows of the tomb, but that is nothing compared with beholding the divine glory.  Learning how to stumble around in a world of death has nothing in common with sharing in the joy of Christ’s resurrection.   
            The jailer in today’s reading from Acts provides a striking example of this kind of blindness, for he was ready to kill himself rather than endure the penalty that awaited him for letting his prisoners escape.  He knew how things worked in the Roman Empire.  When St. Paul assured him that he had nothing to fear for they were all still in their cells, the jailer was so shaken that he asked what he needed to do in order to be saved. In other words, he came to recognize his blindness and wanted to leave behind the pitch black tomb of death and to enter into the light.     
            Jesus Christ’s resurrection made that possible for him, for us, and for the entire universe.   He has given life to the dead, restored sight to the blind, and made even the dark prison of the tomb a gateway to the brilliant light of life eternal.  He enables us to see, to know, and to participate in the divine glory for which He made us in His image and likeness.  He has set us free from the bondage of our sins and of the misery that we have brought upon ourselves.  The good news of this season is that we may rise up in Him from these darkened, pointless ways of living to the light, truth, and joy of the Kingdom of Heaven.  We may share in Christ’s eternal life, in His victory over sin and death, even now.  But in order to do so, we must follow the example of the blind man in today’s gospel reading.
            Notice that he had to actually obey the Lord’s instructions in order to regain his sight.  Christ put clay on the man’s eyes and told him to wash in the pool of Siloam from which water was taken for rites of purification at the Temple.  He did so and he could see.  This washing reminds us of baptism in which we enter into Christ’s death in order to rise with Him into the new life of the Kingdom.  Even as Christ put clay on this man’s eyes, He puts a robe of light on us in baptism. “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Gal. 3:27)  He clothes us with the glory of His divinized humanity, fulfilling our calling as those made in the image and likeness of God.  This is also what Christ did for the jailer who had been ready to kill himself, but then believed and was baptized along with his family. He had been ready to embrace death, but then entered into life.   Like the blind man, he was set free from darkness and beheld the light.  
            The Lord enabled both men to begin a new life, but note that what we read about them describes only the beginning of their journeys.  Like the rest of us, they had a long road before them.  They still had to live faithfully each day and intentionally turn away from the darkness in order to open themselves more fully to the light.  They had to cleanse and focus the eyes of their souls in order to sharpen their spiritual vision, to grow in their personal participation in and knowledge of the Lord.             
            Christ said “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”  (Matt. 5:8)  Purity of heart was surely a goal for these men as much as it is for us, and we have certainly not yet attained it.  We do not yet have the eyes to see with clarity how the darkness has obscured our full participation in the brilliant light of the resurrection.  If our goal were simply to become a bit more functional in daily life or to succeed by the standards of our culture, that would not be much of a problem. A little conventional religion can serve those mundane aims well. Our goal is quite different, however.  We want to become radiant with the divine glory like an iron left in the fire.  We want to see, know, and participate in God by grace, to become partakers of the divine nature. (2 Pet. 1:4)  
           For that to happen, we must purify our hearts by turning away from all the dark and deadly influences of sin in our lives.  None of us has perfect knowledge of our sins, of course, but we all know them well enough to keep us more than busy with repentance.  In other words, Christ has restored our spiritual vision in baptism such that, despite our imperfection and distorted spiritual vision, we all have enough knowledge of Him to know generally where we fall short and where we need to grow.  Instead of despairing that we are not at the heights of spiritual perfection, we simply need to do what we presently have the spiritual strength to do in turning away from death and toward life.  In words, we must with humility take the steps we are capable of taking as we reject obvious corruption in our lives and embrace faith, hope, and love. By uniting ourselves to Christ even in these small ways, we open ourselves to His purifying presence in our hearts.  We invite Him to cleanse and clarify the eyes of our souls such that we will know Him more fully.   And the more we know Him, the more His holiness and purity will become characteristic of us.
            On this last Sunday of Pascha, let us all open ourselves to the brilliant light of our Lord and glorify Christ Who is risen from the dead.  Let us radiate the joy, holiness, and blessedness of His resurrection.  Let us be so filled with the divine glory that darkness can find no place in us to hide.  Then we will truly have the eyes to see Him and to become living witnesses of the good news that Christ is Risen!

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