Saturday, June 29, 2019

Receiving and Giving Freely, Like the Apostles: Homily for the Synaxis of the Twelve Apostles in the Orthodox Church

1 Corinthians 4:9-16; Matthew 9:36-10:8
            Today we commemorate the twelve apostles, looking to them as examples of faithfulness to the Savior.  As with many aspects of our faith, we may be so familiar with them that we take their ministry for granted and do not see how their witness has much to do with us.  After all, they were our Lord’s disciples during His earthly ministry and did not fully understand Who He was until after His resurrection.  Empowered by the Holy Spirit, they then shepherded the Church as they fulfilled Christ’s command to  “preach…‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.”  They all struggled and suffered greatly in faithfulness to the Lord in their ministries, with St. John the Theologian being the only one not dying as a martyr.  That is how they became glorious saints.

If we ever find ourselves thinking that others should praise us for serving Christ, we must look to their example as people who abandoned the comforts of a conventional life to follow a Messiah Who Himself was rejected and condemned by respectable religious and political leaders.  The Savior’s message was such a threat to their power that they crucified Him as a public example of what happened to those who got in their way and threatened the order of society.  As Christ foretold, “the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God.” (Jn 16: 2) It is not surprising that the apostles who continued our Lord’s ministry met deaths like His.  They obeyed literally the Savior’s teaching to deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow Him.
The way of Christ was certainly not popular or celebrated during their lifetimes.  To the contrary, it was a path to persecution, imprisonment, torture, and death.  In contrast to false teachers who tried to use their position for self-glorification, St. Paul knew that true apostles are like people on death row.  They came across as fools wasting their lives in the service of a dead rabbi.  They lacked the basic necessities of life, often being hungry, thirsty, and homeless.  People often treated them as so much garbage with no human dignity at all.

The way of the apostles was not to respond in kind to their enemies, but to manifest the merciful love of the Savior.  Even as He prayed for the forgiveness of those who killed Him and did not respond with violence toward His enemies, St. Paul writes that “When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we try to conciliate.”  The disciples are members of Christ’s Body, the Church, and manifest His ministry as shepherds of the flock. Their work is not their own, but Christ’s.  That is why St. Paul could say with integrity “I urge you, then, be imitators of me.”  His life had become an enacted icon of the Savior.  As he wrote elsewhere, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ Who lives in me.”  (Gal. 2:20)

No matter what our particular calling in the life of the Church may be, all who are members of the Body of Christ have the same fundamental obligation to become beautiful living icons of our Lord.  People should be able to look at any one of us and see a vibrant image of the healing of the human person in God’s image and likeness that our Savior has worked for the salvation of the world.  The apostles are examples for us all in this regard, regardless of the differences between the particulars of their callings and ours.  We have the benefit of their examples and of countless saints who have followed in their way, and must not excuse ourselves from faithfully fulfilling our common vocation.
Christ said to the apostles, “You received without paying, give without pay.”  All the more does His admonition apply to us, who have received the infinite blessings of the ministries of the Church, not as a reward for good behavior, but purely due to the mercy of our Lord.  There is a strong temptation to make our life in the Church all about ourselves, as though God’s salvation were our personal possession to be used for our own comfort and satisfaction.  The apostles certainly rejected the temptation to reduce the Body of Christ to an ethnically defined organization that excluded Gentiles.  They condemned efforts to make the Church the possession of the wealthy and powerful of this world.  They did not compromise the requirements of discipleship in order to give themselves power or to go along with every inclination of the people of their time and place.

Had their religion been something they had invented or earned, they could have done with it as they pleased.  Our Lord’s salvation, however, is not a product of this world or a commodity to be divided up or bought and sold according to conventional human designs.  He has conquered death, the wages of sin, by His own death and resurrection.  We share in His life by grace, which means that we are always in the position of those who have “received without paying.”  Consequently, we must “give without pay” and refuse to make our participation in the Body of Christ a matter of serving ourselves or getting what we want.  If we are truly in Christ, then His life will become our own; our character will conform to His.  He is the vine and we are the branches.  (Jn. 15:5)  Since He offered up Himself freely for our sake, we must offer ourselves in His Body, the Church.

Across the centuries, countless Christians have done so by following the apostles in literally dying for Christ as martyrs.  They have borne witness that the life in Christ has nothing at all to do with a self-serving religion that gives us what we want on our own terms in the world as we know it.   Such martyrdom is a particular calling that requires a God-given strength beyond human will power.  Dying physically is not, however, the only way to bear witness to our Lord, for there are many ways of giving ourselves freely in obedience to His command to take up our crosses. In order to give up the self-centeredness that so easily corrupts everything from our life in the Church to our marriages and use of time and money, we must bear the cross of devoting ourselves to basic spiritual disciplines, such as prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  These are not reserved only for certain penitential periods of the year, but should always be characteristic of our lives.

How else will we gain the spiritual clarity to discern how the Lord is calling us to serve Him in the Church and in the world?  We must mindfully open our hearts to God in prayer each day, tuning out our usual distractions in order to be fully present before Him.  We must discipline our appetites regularly so that we will not become slaves of self-indulgence in food, drink, or other pleasures.  We must learn to love and serve Christ in our neighbors by being generous with our time, energy, and resources in relation to their needs.

These practices sound simple and easy, but anyone who has taken even small steps to embrace them knows that that is not the case.  If we want to follow in the glorious way of the apostles, we must gain the strength to do so by taking the small steps of which we are capable in giving ourselves freely to the Lord in the service of His Church and of the people we encounter every day.  We have no lack of opportunities to do so.  By responding to those opportunities as best we presently can, we will learn to take up our crosses and take our place among the countless witnesses to the saving mercy of our Lord.  We have received without paying.  Let us give in the same way.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Acknowledging Christ by Loving Our Enemies: Homily for the Sunday of All Saints in the Orthodox Church

Hebrews 11:33-12:2; Matthew 10:32-33, 37-38; 19:27-30
             Some of us grew up in churches that gave as little attention as possible to the saints out of fear that honoring those who served our Lord so faithfully would somehow distract us from worshiping only Him.  Today’s reading from Hebrews makes exactly the opposite point, for the “great cloud of witnesses” inspires us to “lay aside every weight” and to “run with perseverance the race that is set before us” as we look to the Lord “Jesus, the pioneer and perfection of our faith.”  In other words, the saints are living witnesses of Christ’s healing of the human person in the divine image and likeness.  Instead of somehow distracting us, they inspire us to a life of holiness, for they show that it is possible to share so fully in the life of our Lord that we become radiant with His gracious divine energies.
That is true of the saints of the Old Testament, who had not yet received the fullness of God’s promise in the coming of the Messiah, and it is all the more the case for those who have borne witness to Christ across the centuries by  refusing to deny Him even to point of death.  The root meaning of the word “martyr” is witness, and there is no more powerful way to give testimony to the truth of our Lord’s victory over death than to offer up one’s life out of faithfulness to Him.  From the first century to the present day, countless people have endured death rather than deny their Savior.   He said, “Many that are first will be last, and the last first.”  And who appears lower in the eyes of the world than those who abandon everything—family, reputation, possessions, and even life itself—out of faithfulness to One Who was rejected and condemned?
We surely do not know the names of all those who have made the ultimate witness for Christ to the point of shedding their own blood.   Nonetheless, we commemorate them today together with all who have become beautiful living icons illumined with the divine glory like an iron left in a roaring fire.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, it is possible for everyone created in God’s image and likeness to become a saint, to participate personally in Christ’s healing and restoration of the human person.  Indeed, that is what it means to become truly human, for He breathed life into us from the dust of the earth in order that we might become perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect.
Such perfection is an infinite goal and we should not think in terms of meeting some objective standard, but of sharing ever more fully in the life of Christ as the distinctive persons He created us to be.  He calls us all to acknowledge Him before others.  If we do so, He will acknowledge us before His Father.  But if we deny Him, He will deny us.  We acknowledge our crucified, risen, and ascended Savior when we take up our crosses and follow Him, which means putting faithfulness to Him above all else.  Even those we love most in this life, such as our family members, cannot conquer death or heal our souls.  If we look to other people for fulfillment in life, we will make them and ourselves miserable.  As those created in God’s image and likeness, we will never find fulfillment in anyone or anything other than Him.
In a world that encourages us to make money, pleasure, and power the standards of success, we must recognize that obedience to the Savior’s call to acknowledge Him by taking up our crosses will never make us first in its eyes. He certainly took the place of the last when He ascended the Cross as One condemned as an irreligious blasphemer by the leaders of the Jews and a failed traitor in the eyes of the Romans.  Across the centuries, martyrs have endured the worst forms of torture and abuse before literally losing their lives out of fidelity to Him.  They became, and in some places today continue to become, the very last in the world as we know it in order to wear the crowns of the heavenly kingdom.
Instead of romanticizing the martyrs after hearing the stories of their lives so many times, we must regain the ability to be shocked by their profound witness.  These are people who loved their families and children every bit as much as we do.  They enjoyed the normal blessings of life and likely had the same hopes and dreams for contentment in future years as we do.  But when the only way that they could continue pursuing conventional life goals was by denying the Savior and worshiping a false god of whatever kind, they steadfastly refused.  The Lord was with them, enabling them to remain faithful when it was well beyond normal human strength to bear up under the worst forms of torture and abuse, even to the point of death.
Their witness teaches that it really is possible to be faithful to our Lord, even when it is sorely tempting to turn away from Him for whatever reason.  They made the ultimate witness to Christ not simply because they had a lot of will power and a high pain tolerance, but because they opened themselves to Him by the power of the Holy Spirit from the depths of their hearts.  That is not a matter of magic or a fit of emotion, but of uniting ourselves to Christ in humble faith and repentance such that His life becomes present in ours.  If we are truly in Him, then we will take up our crosses in faithfulness to the One Who ascended the Cross for our salvation.
If we wonder what cross we need to take up in order to acknowledge Him before others, a necessary place to start is with loving our enemies.  St. Silouan the Athonite saw the love of enemies as a clear sign of the healing presence of the Holy Spirit in one’s life.  He taught that when the soul “grows humble, the Lord gives her His grace, and then she prays for her enemies as for herself, and sheds scalding tears for the whole world.”  We must learn humility in order to pray for our enemies because of the strong temptation to self-righteous judgment.  That means we must abandon our prideful illusions of somehow being justified in condemning others and obsessing about their faults, which is simply a distraction from recognizing the truth about the weakness of our own souls.  Christ came not to destroy sinners, but to save them.  He said “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” of those who nailed Him to the Cross as He died on it.  If we are truly conforming ourselves to Him by the power of the Holy Spirit, His merciful love will become characteristic of us.  There is no better indication of whether we are finding the healing of our souls than in how we respond to those we consider our foes.
Many today think that it is a sign of weakness to love and forgive as Christ did because they value their own power, reputation, or interests in this world before running “the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfection of our faith.”  If we are truly in Him, then we must risk being last in the eyes of the world in order to enter into the joy of His Kingdom.  Instead of holding grudges, plotting for revenge, and figuring out how to gain victory over them, we must pray for the Lord’s merciful blessing on those who have wronged us.  We must ask God to forgive our sins by their prayers, for we know our own spiritual brokenness with much greater clarity than we could possibly know anyone else’s.  Regular use of the Jesus Prayer is a powerful tool for turning our hearts to God in true humility and away from the self-righteous judgment of others.
As we commemorate all the saints who have borne witness to Christ, let us gain the strength to follow their righteous example by embracing the path of humble forgiveness.  Let us acknowledge Him by how we treat those who have wronged us, for nothing else so clearly reveals the true state of our souls.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

More Powerful than Water, Wind, and Fire: Homily for the Great Feast of Pentecost in the Orthodox Church

Acts 2:1-11; John 7: 37-52; 8:12
          On today’s great feast of Pentecost, we celebrate the Holy Spirit coming upon the followers of the risen Lord Jesus Christ, which is the birthday of His Body, the Church.  After the Savior’s resurrection, He ascended into heaven and sent the Holy Spirit to His disciples so that they would not be cut off from Him and the new life that He brought to the world.  The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Holy Trinity, fully divine and eternal as are the Father and the Son.  By being filled with the Holy Spirit, the Lord’s followers share personally and communally in the unity, power, and blessing of the very life of God by participation in His gracious divine energies.
Unlike the period before Christ’s Passion, the disciples now no longer think of themselves as students of a mere teacher, prophet, or king.  They no longer struggle to accept the shocking news of His death and resurrection.  Instead, they experience the new life of the Kingdom as “rivers of living water” flowing from their hearts.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, they share in the eternal life of the Holy Trinity.  God is not remote, distant, or removed from them; but present and active in their souls. That is how they become who God created them to be in the divine image and likeness.
At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit comes upon the apostles as a group gathered together in obedience to the Lord’s command.  The same divine breath which first gave life to the human person comes upon them as a mighty wind.  The divine glory beheld by Moses in the burning bush now rests upon each of them personally as flames of fire.   The divided speech of the tower of Babel is now overcome by the miracle of speaking in different languages as a sign that everyone is invited to share in the life of the Lord.  Not the possession of any nation or group, this great feast manifests the fulfillment of God’s promises for the entire world and every human being.
God creates us all in His image with the calling to grow in His likeness, which means to become like Him in holiness through the power of the Holy Spirit poured out at Pentecost.   Human distinctions of every kind become irrelevant here, for all that matters is that we respond with faith, humility, love, and repentance.
With the Holy Spirit present in our hearts, linking us together organically as one, our fallen, divided humanity is restored.  Just as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share a common life of love, unity, and holiness, we share a common life in Christ’s Body, the Church.   As particular people, we have the responsibility to believe and obey the Lord as we seek to live faithfully each day and participate fully in the ministries of the Church.   As members of Christ’s Body, we are nurtured by worship, the sacraments, and spiritual instruction in our common life.   Through the Church, the Holy Spirit brings us into ever greater participation in the life of God.
We receive the Holy Spirit not as isolated individuals living on our own terms, but as persons in communion, in loving relationship with Christ and with one another in His Body, the Church.  The only proper way to celebrate Pentecost is to open ourselves as fully as possible to God’s healing, transforming power in our life together in a way that overcomes all worldly distinctions.
No area of our lives is off limits from the sanctifying presence of the Holy Spirit, unless we refuse to open it to Him.  That would be tragic, of course, for because of Pentecost we may become radiant with the divine glory as His living temples in every dimension of our existence. That is how we too may experience “rivers of living water” that quench the thirst of our dry, parched souls.  This Pentecost, let us all become wide open to the healing power and presence of God, Who alone can satisfy our deepest desires and make us shine brilliantly with the light of His eternal glory.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Ascending with Christ into Heavenly, Not Earthly, Glory: Homily for the Sunday After the Ascension and Commemoration of the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in the Orthodox Church

Acts 20:16-18, 28-36; John 17:1-13

            Forty days after His glorious resurrection, our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ ascended in glory into heaven and sat at the right hand of God the Father.  He did so as One Who is fully divine and fully human, One Person with two natures. He ascended with His glorified, resurrected body which still bore the wounds of His crucifixion.  The Ascension shows that through Him our humanity has come to participate by grace in the eternal life of the Holy Trinity.  He has made us “partakers of the divine nature” who may share in His fulfillment of what it means to be a human person in God’s image and likeness.
Today we commemorate the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council in Nicaea.  They rejected the teaching of Arius that Jesus Christ was not truly divine, but a kind of lesser god created by the Father at a certain point.  The Council declared, as we confess to this day in the Nicene Creed, that our Savior is “the Son of God, the only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all worlds. Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, of one essence with the Father, by Whom all things were made.”  The Fathers of Nicaea saw clearly that the One Who brought us into the eternal life of God must Himself be eternal and divine.  Only God could make human persons “partakers of the divine nature” by grace. 
Had Christ been merely a creature or an especially impressive religious teacher or example, He would have remained captive to the corruptions of the world as we know it.  He could have taught and inspired people, but would not have been able to conquer death or make a path for us to find the fulfillment of our humanity in the Holy Trinity.  Those who water down the faith to the point of viewing the Savior as simply an excellent human being make it impossible to acknowledge Christ as the One Who has truly united humanity and divinity in Himself.  We can learn a lot from great teachers and examples, but only the Son of God can make us participants in life eternal.  Only He could say to the Father, “glorify Me in Your own presence with the glory which I had with You before the world was made.”  
            The divine glory displayed in Christ’s ascension is entirely different from the power and fame that people find so appealing in our world of corruption.  At some level, we all know how weak and insignificant we are in the larger scheme of things.  That is why we so easily make false gods of just about anything that can distract us from recognizing the truth about ourselves, including the inevitability of death.  Putting our ultimate trust in nations, rulers, and riches—or our health, appearance, talents, and relationships--or any created thing leads inevitably to idolatry, for it is a form of worshiping a false god, regardless of whether we call it a religion. Doing so will also lead us to demonize our enemies, real and imagined, because it often makes us feel better about ourselves by comparison when we have someone else to condemn.  That is surely one of the reasons that so many people in our culture have become slaves to anger and hatred toward those they view as their rivals or opponents in a zero-sum game for getting all the glory by being on the right side.
            The glory of our ascended Lord is the complete opposite of such pathetic and perverse efforts to build ourselves up at the expense of others. Remember that He ascended only after descending, only after dying on the Cross, being buried in a tomb, and descending into Hades.  He rose from the dead because He had humbled Himself to the point of accepting rejection, torture, and crucifixion as a blasphemer and a traitor.  He was mocked as a failure and made a public example of what happened to people who dared to challenge the authority of Rome, even though His Kingdom is clearly not of this world.  He completely repudiated earthly glory in order to make a way for us into the brilliant joy of heaven. 
Christ endured all this, not simply as a religious teacher or virtuous person, but truly as the eternal Son of God Who spoke the universe into existence. Let that sink in for a moment, for the unfathomable humility of the Savior destroys our usual assumptions about what it means to be high and mighty. The divine glory revealed so powerfully at His ascension shines brilliantly in contrast to what passes for honor in a world that typically chooses to remain in the dark night of the tomb.  If we dare to identify ourselves with Him, we must open the eyes of our souls to the light of His heavenly glory and refuse to wander in spiritual blindness.  In order to celebrate the Ascension with integrity, we must ascend with Him into the eternal life of the Holy Trinity even as we live and breathe with our bodies in a world that remains very far from the fullness of His Kingdom.
By rising into heavenly glory as the God-Man, He has shared His gracious divine energies with us.  He shows us what it means to be truly human in the divine image and likeness.   In order to unite ourselves to Him, we must reorient our desires for fulfillment, meaning, and joy to the One Who overcame the worst the darkened world could do in order make us participants in the eternal day of His heavenly reign.  The contrast between the heights of heaven and the mundane realities of our lives is obviously very great. The point of division is not, however, that we are ordinary people with common problems who belong to a very small parish.  It is, instead, that we have not united ourselves to Christ in holiness to the point that every dimension of our life in this world has become a brilliant icon of His salvation.         
Of course, that is a very high goal which no one may claim to have fulfilled.  God is infinitely holy and the journey to become perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect is truly eternal. 
No matter where we are on that path, we must all ask our ourselves quite seriously whether we are ascending with Him into greater holiness as we go through our daily lives, face whatever set of challenges we have, and respond to the constant barrage of temptations to put our trust elsewhere.  It may be easy to attend services, sing in praise of the Ascension, and call ourselves Christians, but it is much more demanding to conform ourselves to Christ such that His radiant glory shines through us. 
            We should not dream of performing grand gestures of holiness, for that would likely lead us into prideful fantasies.  Instead, we do well to focus on taking the small steps that we are capable of right now in relation to the people around us and the circumstances with which we are familiar.   That means humbling ourselves to put the needs of others before our own preferences in our families, friendships, and workplaces, as well as in our parish.
Christ prayed to the Father that His followers “may be one, even as We are one.”  We will never ascend in holiness if we think that we relate to God as isolated individuals with a religion that concerns only what we do when we are alone.  The Church is one and we are members of Christ’s Body together.  He ascended with His body and we will too by serving Him in the Church as we do what needs to be done for the flourishing of our small parish.  We ascend into the heavenly Kingdom whenever we “lay aside all earthly cares” in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy.  Nourished by His Body and Blood in the Eucharist, let us join ourselves to the great Self-offering of the Savior in our common life, for it is only in Him—our risen and ascended Lord—that we may enter into the heavenly glory for which He created us in His image and likeness.  He has already ascended.  Let us go up with Him together.  

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Hope for Us Who Dwell in Darkness: Homily for the Sunday of the Blind Man in the Orthodox Church

Acts 16:16-34; John 9:1-38 
 Christ is Risen!
             It is usually a good idea to follow the old saying, “Look before you leap.”  We can get into a lot of trouble by acting before we have a good understanding of our circumstances and of what is likely to come from our actions.  The blind man in today’s gospel reading, however, was in a very different situation.  Because of blindness, he could not look at all.  Christ acted on him by putting clay on his eyes and telling him to wash in the pool of Siloam.  This fellow did not know who the Lord was, but because his sight was restored after he obeyed that command, the man said that He was a prophet.  It is not until the end of the passage that the Savior revealed Himself as the Son of God; then the man believed and worshiped Him.  At that point, the eye of the man’s soul was opened to know Christ in His divine glory.

In our reading from Acts, we encounter another man who dwelt in darkness.  The Roman jailer was ready to kill himself when an earthquake opened the doors of the prison and broke the chains of the prisoners.  Knowing that he would be executed for failing to keep the prison secure, the wretched man was about to take his own life with his sword.  He was in one of the darkest spots imaginable at that point, when St. Paul assured him that the prisoners had not escaped.  We read that “the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out and said, ‘Men, what must I do to be saved?’  And they said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’”  That is what this fellow did.  He was baptized along with his whole family. After washing the apostles’ wounds, the man took them to his home and served them food.  Then he “rejoiced with all his household that he had believed in God.”  Like the blind man in the gospel reading, the jailer had his eyes opened to know Christ in His divine glory.

The men in our readings were not deliberately on a journey for spiritual fulfillment.  They were not investigating their religious options and seeing which one suited them the best.  Neither seems to have been focused on much more than the day-to-day realities of their lives when the light of Christ came upon them.  It was surely just another Sabbath day for the blind man when the Savior’s healing restored His sight in such a miraculous fashion that he found himself in the middle of a controversy so fierce that he was cast out of the synagogue simply for having a positive view of the Lord Who had healed him.  The jailer had fulfilled his responsibilities in securing the prisoners when an earthquake set them all free in a way reminiscent of the Lord’s victory over Hades, which set free the captives of death.  They were both shocked and disoriented by these events.  The predictable lives they had known were over and they found themselves in unfamiliar, distributing circumstances. They both asked questions as they came to faith.  The formerly blind man asked Who the Son of God was so that he could believe in Him.  The jailer asked how to be saved.  These were not theoretical questions for them, but truly practical matters of life and death.

As we prepare to conclude our celebration of Pascha in the coming week, we must remember that the Savior’s resurrection is neither a theological concept nor a reward that we receive for being religious people.  The good news that “Christ is Risen!” is even more extraordinary than a man blind from birth gaining his sight or a jailer finding that all his prisoners are still there after having been set free by an earthquake.  But in order to open our eyes to the shocking brilliance of the empty tomb, we need to ponder the examples of human beings who suddenly found themselves, through no fault or credit of their own, in the life-changing circumstance of encountering Jesus Christ.  The formerly blind man had originally thought that Christ was a prophet who had worked a great miracle of healing.  The jailer was a pagan Roman and there is no telling what, if anything, he knew about the Lord before asking Paul and Silas what he had to do in order to be saved.  The Savior changed their lives radically and in ways that they could neither predict nor control.

We will be guilty of trying to make God in our own image if we think we can calculate with precision why and how the brilliant light of the resurrection shines in particular ways in our world of darkness.  Remember the conversion of St. Paul, who thought that his miraculous conversion, as “the chief of sinners,” was merely a sign that “Christ Jesus might display His immense patience as an example for those who would believe in Him and receive eternal life.” (1 Tim. 1:15-16)  In other words, if the Lord could save Paul, then there is hope for us all.  That was a very modest and humble affirmation on his part.

When Christ was asked whose sin was responsible for the man being born blind, He answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.  I 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.”  If we spend our time and energy obsessing about the effects of our sins or those of others, we will end up blindly focusing on ourselves and other people in a way that will only enslave us further to spiritual darkness.  Our Risen Lord is the Light of the world.  He has illumined even the tomb, making it an entrance into the glory of His eternal life.  Pascha teaches us that our participation by grace in the joy of His resurrection is no more a matter of what we deserve or even understand than was the healing of the blind man or the strange set of circumstances that led to the conversion of the jailer.  Their stories are not primarily about them as particular people, but about how our Lord restored them to the sublime dignity of those who share in His life by grace.

The blind man did not respond with questions and reservations driven by fear about the future course of his life.  He simply obeyed, washed, and saw, then he moved forward to encounter challenges he could never have anticipated.  The jailer did not ask how the earthquake that freed the prisoners related to this or that in his life experience. Terrified to the point of taking his own life, he simply asked how to be saved once he realized that the captives had not escaped.  We must learn from their examples not to get so caught up in our own thoughts, emotions, worries, and fears that we distract ourselves from doing what it takes to open the eyes of our souls more fully to the brilliant light of Christ.  The question of the jailer, “Men, what must I do to be saved?” is not a one-time question with an abstract answer, but concerns the ongoing journey of becoming radiant with the divine energies of our Lord as we become more like Him in holiness.  We must continuously discern the answer to that question through our full participation in the sacramental and ascetical life of the Church as we enter more fully into the holy mystery of our salvation and turn away from habits of thought, word, and deed that tempt us to choose death over life.  As those who were born spiritually blind and have been illumined through the washing of Baptism and the anointing of Chrismation, we must persist in turning away from the darkness in our souls as we embrace the light of the resurrection more fully.

Our Risen Lord has conquered Hades, death, and the tomb, and now nothing can keep us from shining with the brilliant light of holiness other than our own choice to persist in blindness. Even though the season of Pascha soon concludes, we may always live in the new day of His resurrection.  Like the men in today’s readings, let us urgently embrace the Savior as we disorient ourselves from the darkness and turn toward the Light of the world, for Christ is Risen!