Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Pascha, St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco Russian Orthodox Mission Church, Lewisburg PA, on May 24, 7529 (June 6, 2021 civil calendar)
Christ is Risen!
Dear brothers and sisters, today we commemorate the blind man, the man born blind, who is also each of us. This Pascha season continues to point to our new birth in our Lord Jesus Christ, through baptism and chrismation renewed in the Eucharist and in the uncreated grace of the Holy Spirit, symbolized in our seven-branched candlestick or menorah (representing the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit) on the altar here at our humble yet venerable mission. Our mission is humble, it is small, it is a missionary frontier of the worldwide Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. Yet it is also venerable for that same reason, as part of our Lord’s Church, His Body, His Bride, from apostolic times to the ancient Patriarchates and from them to what became the Patriarchate of Moscow and to us.
This is the Sixth Sunday of Pascha, Six symbolizing the days of Creation of the world, and the making of man. St. Irenaeus, an early Church Father who was a spiritual grandson of St. John the Theologian, the Evangelist who tells us the account of the blind man, noted that the mixture of clay and saliva in the Gospel story forms a type of creation of humanity from the earth. Thus Jesus Christ reveals his divinity in this Sixth Sign in the Gospel of John, commemorated on this Sixth Sunday of Pascha, using the same materials that He used to make man on the Sixth Day, the clay and the spittle symbolizing the two natures of Christ Who is also a Person of the Holy Trinity, His spittle reminding us of the divine and also our baptism and chrismation in Him as His creatures.
Yet the healing of blindness from birth also typifies the coming of the uncreated light fully through the Incarnation, fulfilling the promise of theosis or oneness with God’s energies offered to man in Christ. The light shineth in the darkness and the darkness understandeth it not, as St. John’s Gospel tells us earlier, fulfilling the Genesis account of creation. In the chiasmus or mirroring of biblical poetry, the sixth day of Creation, in which man is made according to the image and likeness of God, mirrors the second day, in which the waters are separated above and below, mirroring one another, a type of the flowing grace of the Holy Spirit moving upon the waters.
The two great lights at the center of the chiasmic or mirroring structure of the seven days, the sun and the moon, likewise typify according to some commentators Christ and His Church, the moon as the Church reflecting the light of the Sun. So too the blind man’s healing. as again the Sixth Sign in the Gospel of St. John the Theologian, and commemorated on theSsixth Sunday of Pascha, points us ahead toward the outflowing of the Holy Spirit in the Seventh Sunday of the First Ecumenical Council, and to the formation of the New Testament Church at Pentecost, just beyond the Seventh Sunday and on the horizon.
This week we will find ourselves in an in-between time, with the leave-taking of Pascha on Wednesday, and then the Ascension on Thursday, and then the Seventh and last Sunday of Pascha, before Pentecost, next Sunday. Thus so we are in that in-between time in which we must pray and work with God’s grace for our salvation here on earth. Not because of the sins of his parents was the man born blind, we are told, but for the glory of God, and so it is with us here and now. The night will come, death and the age to come, when we can not find the embodied freedom to seek salvation in grace. We must pray and work here and now.
One thing we must note today from the blind man’s experience: When he is healed and sees the light, he is cast out from society. He becomes like a pariah, an outcast, as it were a spiritual guerrilla fighter. The Jewish leaders of the day cast him out from their community, from any hope of social acceptance and success. So were those leaders blind in their self-righteousness and lack of faith. The blind man who now sees becomes a witness, one translation for the Greek word martyr, and joins the larger commonwealth of God, the Church.
Are we willing to give up our own dreams of material comfort and contentment likewise to be such a witness? To really see the light of God, would we give up our social acceptance, our man-pleasing conformity, our desires for material success, and fully begin a new dimension of living while still hear on earth? When I was young, I was a member for a while of an American religious cult that emphasized success and claimed to be Christian but was gnostic in teachings and apart from the one Holy and Apostolic Church, the Orthodox Church. It counted a number of Hollywood stars and political and successful business figures among its adherents. It presented itself as all-American. But it was a dying and declining cult, and lacked the fulness of truth and freedom as service to truth in the Person of Jesus Christ, which we find in the light of Orthodoxy, with its apostolic succession.
The Orthodox Church calls us to ascetic struggle, as well as love in truth of our neighbors and one another. I have, since unworthily taking a stand for the Orthodox faith, found myself having lost friends, but also have gained truer ones, glory to God. And our truest friend, Who will never leave us, is Jesus Christ our Lord. Let us pray that we may always walk with Him and be faithful to Him, as we work to evangelize the central Susquehanna Valley, and build our temple, God willing, in the light of Christ, in a fresh new and real dimension of living in God’s creation with His grace upon our struggles. This light He offers us every day and every moment, and it is the light of His Resurrection embracing and revivifying the earth and each of us.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Christ is Risen!