Turn Away from the Darkness and Toward the Light: Homily for the Sunday of the Blind Man in the Orthodox Church

Acts 16:16-34; John 9:1-38

  Christ is Risen!

             On this last Sunday of Pascha, we celebrate how the Risen Lord has brought us from the spiritual darkness of sin and death into the brilliant light of His heavenly Kingdom.  Even as Christ restored sight to the man born blind in today’s gospel reading, He has illumined our darkened souls.  That is how He has enabled us to know and experience Him as “partakers of the divine nature” by grace.

Before the God-Man’s healing of corrupt humanity, spiritual blindness was the common lot of the children of the first Adam, who were enslaved to the fear of death as the wages of sin. When the Lord spat on the ground to make clay for the man’s eyes, He showed that His healing is an extension of His incarnation in which He has entered fully into our humanity, for we are made from the dust of the earth.  The blind man regained his sight after washing in the pool of Siloam, which is an image of baptism in which we are illumined and our spiritual sight is restored.  The man did not really know Who the Lord was when he first encountered Him, thinking that He was merely a prophet.  After the restoration of the man’s sight, the Savior revealed Himself to Him as the Son of God; then the eye of the man’s soul was opened to know Christ in His divine glory.

In today’s reading from Acts, we encounter another man who knew darkness all too well.  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, he was about to take his own life with his sword.  He was in the abyss of darkness 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?’” He had just witnessed a miracle that shook him to the core and made him aware of his spiritual blindness.  The apostles responded, “‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’”  That is what he did, for the jailer 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 gained the vision to know Christ in His divine glory.

The men in our readings were going about their lives in ways to which they were well accustomed.  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 routine responsibilities in securing the prisoners when an earthquake set them all free in a way reminiscent of the Lord’s victory over Hades, which liberated the captives of death.  To say that they were both shocked and disoriented by these events would be an understatement.  Their assumptions about themselves and their place in the world were overturned.   They found themselves in unfamiliar, disturbing 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 speculative questions for them, but urgent matters of life and death.

Likewise, the Savior’s resurrection is not simply a concept or an idea to be discussed.  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 his prisoners are secure after having been set free by an earthquake.  The 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. These examples of human beings, who suddenly found themselves through no fault or credit of their own in life-changing circumstances as they encountered Jesus Christ, call us to open our eyes to the shocking brilliance of the empty tomb.

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.”  It is pointless to obsess about anyone’s sins, including our own, for that weds us even further to spiritual darkness.  Christ has given us the ability to focus our attention on opening our souls to His brilliant light. He came not to help us ponder the darkness, but to make us radiant with His divine glory.  He has illumined even the tomb itself, making it an entrance into eternal life.  Pascha reveals 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 deliverance of the jailer.

The blind man did not respond to Christ’s instructions with questions and reservations driven by fear about the future course of his life.  He simply obeyed, washed, saw, and then  moved forward to encounter challenges he could never have anticipated.  The jailer, terrified to the point of taking his own life, simply asked how to be saved once he realized that the captives had not escaped.  Their examples remind us not to allow anything to distract us from attending to our one essential calling of opening the eyes of our souls 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 any easy answer, but concerns the eternal journey of becoming radiant with the divine energies of our Lord as we become more like Him in holiness.

We open ourselves to receive His light as we mindfully turn away from all the thoughts, words, and deeds that would keep us in the dark and enslaved to sin and death.  Because of the darkness that remains within us, we must struggle to become fully receptive to the brilliance of our Lord through the healing found in the sacramental and ascetical life of the Church.   As those who were born spiritually blind and have been illumined through the washing of Baptism and the anointing of Chrismation, we must remain vigilant against the persistent temptation to fall back into the darkness.  That is why we must pray daily, fast and confess regularly, serve our neighbors at every opportunity, and refuse to worship the false gods of this world.  There is much within us that would prefer to hide in the darkness rather than to encounter the light of God.  We must resist that temptation, if we do not want to fall back into a blindness that leads only to death.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”  The light of our Risen Lord has illumined even Hades and the tomb, and now nothing can keep us from becoming radiant with holy glory other than our own choice to persist in blindness.  As we prepare to bid farewell to the season of Pascha this year, let us live in the new day of the Savior’s resurrection each day as we disorient ourselves from the darkness and turn toward the Light of the world, for Christ is Risen!

 

 

2 comments:

  1. Christ is Risen indeed!
    Greetings, Fr Philip!
    What a joyous season to remember Christ’s glorious Resurrection every day (and always)!
    Thank you for the good homily. We were truly blessed once again.

    God bless you,
    Mark and Rhoda

    1. Mark and Rhoda:

      Indeed, He is Risen!

      It is always great to hear from you. Thanks so much for your kind message and for staying in touch. Let’s keep the joy of Pascha in our hearts throughout the year.

      In our Risen Lord,

      Fr. Philip

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