Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Blind Man

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

“Christ is Risen!”

Our Gospel lesson from John 9 portrays for us a true spiritual confrontation between darkness and light. In the one corner are the Pharisees, blind to Christ and to the works of God. In the other corner is a young man recently illumined in body and soul.

You see, the true miracle that Christ worked here was not just to open the physical eyes of this man, but to open the eyes of his heart as well. This is what our Lord meant when the disciples asked Him, “Master, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?” and He responded, “Neither, but rather that the works of God should be manifest in him”. Surely the works of God are not just to heal the body, but to enlighten the soul as well.

In the case of this man, Christ performed both healings at once, opening his outer and inner eyes simultaneously. Thus the contrast between the spiritual clarity of the young man who could now see and the dark confusion of the Pharisees who were spiritually blind became painfully obvious. They raged against him, refusing to believe, until finally casting him out of the Synagogue, thus unwittingly demonstrating that they had no communion with those who were of the light.

Our Lord found him and asked, “Do you believe in the Son of God?” The young man asked, “Who is He Lord, that I may believe in Him?” and Jesus replied, “He who speaks with you”. Immediately the young man believed and followed Him. Having his eyes opened by Christ, he then became a follower of Christ, and found the complete healing of his soul and his salvation in Christ.

Christ came to enlighten the world and bring salvation. But what exactly do we mean by the term “salvation”? In popular Christianity, salvation seems to mean little more than having our sins forgiven. But the very word “salvation” actually means healing or wholeness, and implies much more than forgiveness alone. The sins of the whole world are forgiven at the Cross, yet fallen though forgiven men and women still need the healing of God to take place in their lives. Salvation is both this process of healing and its ultimate fulfillment.

Many today would dispute this, claiming that when Christ said “It is finished” from the Cross, the work of our salvation was completed and all we need to do is claim it. But if this were the case, then after Christ said those words there would have been no need for Him to die and undergo burial; no need for Him to descend into hell to destroy death by death and set the captives free; no need for Him to rise on the third day with a glorified human soul and body; no need for Him to ascend into heaven and be seated at the right hand of God the Father on high. All these events become part of our salvation as well, since it is our humanity that He took with Him and transformed through all these experiences. The words from the Cross “It is finished”, simply meant that all the prophecies concerning the suffering Messiah up to that point were fulfilled and He could now continue with everything else needed to heal our fallen humanity and take it into the presence of God.

Where our Protestant friends err is in equating the forgiveness of sins with the totality of salvation, and thus they focus almost exclusively on the Cross and tend to marginalize everything else that Christ accomplished to bring healing, restoration and glorification to our humanity.

If salvation truly were nothing more than the forgiveness of sins—you are forgiven, therefore you are saved—then we are doomed to spend the rest of our lives in fallen, corrupted bodies with no hope of change in this life. Thank God the lives of holy men and women throughout the history of the Church prove that to be a lie! They became sharers in the glorified humanity of Christ as can we.

Furthermore, if salvation is only the forgiveness of sins, what picture does that paint of God? His unbending sense of divine justice could only be satisfied by the horrible death of His own Son before He could be made to accept us? This is a tragic distortion. In the Orthodox view, the Son of God willingly took upon Himself, not the wrath of the Father, but the suffering and death caused by our sins in order to destroy these on His mission to complete the restoration of the divine image in man and to heal us.

The Orthodox understanding of salvation is much more complete and holistic, and does not leave us with a distorted view of God, nor with a salvation that is somehow incomplete. Christ has indeed accomplished everything needed for our salvation, up to the Cross and beyond. We are baptized into Christ for the remission of our sins, and we walk with Him in newness of life to serve Him throughout our lives as His healing takes place in us.

As Orthodox Christians, it is imperative that we understand that salvation is healing, and that the Church is the spiritual hospital where such healing unto life eternal takes place. The divine remedies prescribed by the Church lead to purification, and further, to the eyes of our hearts being fully opened and our souls completely illumined.

But this takes time and our cooperation with the grace of God. We must not mistake the initial gift of faith that God gives to each of us as our total salvation. It is more like the divine spark that is meant to light the lamp and thereby give a much fuller and brighter light. In order for a lamp to shine brightly, it must have its chimney cleaned, its wick adjusted, its reservoir filled with oil. So we must be cleaned, adjusted and filled with the oil of the Holy Spirit to shine as brightly as we can. Otherwise we have nothing but a little spark which, if set on a lamp that is unclean and lacking oil, will only smolder and may eventually go out.

Jesus used the illustration of a lamp in one of His teachings to show that the gift of spiritual illumination is not just for the individual so illumined, but for all those around him as well. I fear that many Orthodox Christians today are much more like neglected lamps. Rather than burning brightly with the light of Christ for the benefit of all seeking salvation, they are more like smoldering wicks, putting smoke in the eyes of men and further blinding them to Christ. Many Christians, by their careless and neglectful lives, create more darkness and put people off from the faith. This is what we saw in the Pharisees. They were all smoke and no light and one had to actually get away from them in order to behold Christ.

What a terrible thing it would be if we were nothing more than smoke in the eyes of men. We can be full of convictions about the “rightness” of our Church, full of doctrines and dogmas, full of arguments designed to convert others—in short, “full of it”—but unless we have allowed the light of God to shine from our lives to some degree, we are better off being hidden under a bushel than inflicting ourselves on others.

We should learn, not only from the Blind Man in this story, but also from the Pharisees. They had a fit because Christ healed on the Sabbath and therefore could not possibly be from God. We might believe, and rightly so, that our Church is the true Church and our understanding of salvation the most intact and complete. But if this conviction causes us to fail to see Christ in others outside of Orthodoxy, then who is truly blind in that case?

Yes, there is much error and falsehood in Christendom and the world in general today. But we must seek to live our faith, gain illumination and healing in Christ, and thus give light to the world and not just more smoke. May God help us to walk as children of the light.

+To the glory of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

11 Comments:

At 5/27/2006 11:08 PM , Blogger fixer30 said...

Theolgia Crucis No cross no salvation. To read it Ere, one would think that the Crucifixion was merely a minor part of man's ultimate reconciliation to the Father.

even the alphabet starts with the letter "A" and then progresses. Without a begining, how can there be a ending? Yet to build a foundation on anything other than the beginning is to deny the true foundation of our faith,

Peace be unto you Ere

andrew

 
At 5/29/2006 1:53 AM , Anonymous Bruce said...

Andrew, I find you comment quite unfair! Father Michael is a Christian man. I'm going to assume you are as well. Father Michael's blog is not aimed necessarily at the non-Christian, but those of us attempting to follow after our Saviour. The cross is the centerpiece for any of us calling ourselves Christians.

For 40 days following Christ's ressurection from the dead, the Orthodox faithful greet one another with the phrase "Christ is Risen". The response is, "Indeed He is Risen".

Have you not been able to tell from his many writings that Father knows that without the cross, there is no salvation for us? If your attempt is to just be adversarial, then you are succeeding! I have read other comments you have made, and have found them to be fair, insightful and thought provoking, even if I did not agree. This one I find curious, and as I say quite unfair!!

Bruce

 
At 5/29/2006 7:46 AM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

Let not your heart be troubled, Andrew. As Bruce points out, we Orthodox have not forgotten the message of the Cross. It is, in fact, central to our preaching. However it is important to understand that salvation consists of more than the forgiveness of sins alone, but also includes the lifting up and healing of our fallen nature, and the glorification of our humanity in Christ.

If I can find the time, I will write more about this in a future post here.

 
At 5/29/2006 1:12 PM , Anonymous Kevin said...

I think one of the problems we have in western Christendom (and this is made clear in fixer30's post) is the lack of understanding of the Patristic idea of theosis as salvation. With no theology of "essence" and "energies" (in western Christianity), man cannot really have "union" with God (via union with His energies).

Such union is truly salvation; what is "in Christ"(IE. in unity with!)is saved; what is not...isn't!

What is "salvation" (then) with no theology of "essence" and "energies" (which undergirds the theology of "theosis")?

You are left with an "extrinsic", or Calvinistic salvation...a "forensic/legalistic justification", where the Cross is seen as the payment for sins to an angry God and we are simply freed from the penalty (the ransom theory).

But as your homily points out, God is NOT angry with us! He loves us! He died for our sins and went on to provide the means by which our entire being (body, soul and spirit) can be saved!

Theosis doesn't minimize the Cross! It puts the Cross in the proper context, without mischaracterizing the nature of the Father.

 
At 5/30/2006 12:30 AM , Blogger fixer30 said...

The simplicity of the Cross is meant to inspire and not to be confused. The Word of God is simple, it needs no hyphens.

Why do you stop after 40 days? Christ is just as risen after 41 days.

And (out of love)Fr Michael is one of the most Christian men that I know.

BTW why do you call Father Micheal "father"when the Bible clearly says that you should not?

"Call no one on Earth you Father, for you have only one Father in heavan"

 
At 5/30/2006 5:43 AM , Anonymous Bruce said...

Andrew, I do agree, the Word of God is simple. It just seems to be us who screw it up! I think that the 27,000 differing splinter groups of Protestantism make this point clearly.

Anybody who know me, is aware of the fact that I am quite eager to respond to your questions about "Call no man father". In fairness to Father Michael's blog site, and in the realization that we are rabbit trailing to a different topic than the one we are supposedly commenting on, I will defer to Father to address this if he chooses! I'm sure he will.

I do hope that you are genuinely interested in receiving an answer, and again not just being adverarial for adversities sake. Sometimes the answers we get are one's that can shock us a bit because they don't fit quite right into out theology.

God help us all, Bruce

 
At 5/30/2006 7:13 AM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

"Call no man on earth your father" is a topic for another thread. For now, check this out: http://www.protomartyr.org/father.html

 
At 5/30/2006 11:20 AM , Anonymous Kevin said...

"For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ I have begotten you through the gospel." 1 Cor. 4:15

 
At 5/30/2006 1:55 PM , Blogger fixer30 said...

That is wonderful news, the orthodox Evangelize.

My attempt is not to be adverserial at all, rahter if one stakes a postion such as "Father" Micheal then please support it.

Bruce you do realize that you have stepped away from "Call no man your Father for your father is in heavan" and Exchangedit for Paul's "I am your Father in Faith"?

That would seem to elevate Paul a bit....

Peace Be unto you all...

 
At 5/30/2006 6:57 PM , Anonymous bruce said...

Andrew, I think what you have stated is fair. Not a complete picture of my slow process of embracing my spiritual father, but I think what you say has some validity to it! Again, in fairness to the original topic on this post, I would like to hold off on further discussion. If Father brings this up in some future post, lets all readress this at that time!

And also to you, Bruce

 
At 7/16/2006 10:44 PM , Blogger Zeph said...

Questions:

1) What are the theologies of "essences" and "energies"?
2) What is required for salvation?
I believe some additional information that I might need for understanding could be "What is required to achieve it?" and "What is expected in order to maintain it?" But this is a rough guess based on a vague idea of where you might be going.

These can be answered in separate posts, and are by no means brought up in order to provoke, but rather because I would honestly like to know your answers. These are different approaches than what I am used to, and I would like to understand more.

 

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