|35 - Fourth Sunday of Pascha: The Paralytic, May 10, 2009|
I invite you to look back over the last three weeks and ask yourself: where did you go when you left the Church on Pascha night? Did you go where the Church told you to go, or did you go back into the world? Let me explain.
One notes in the Gospel accounts how the proclamation of Christ’s resurrection is often followed by a command to go somewhere in order to see the risen Savior. On Pascha night, on the front steps of the Church, we heard from St Mark’s Gospel the young man proclaiming to us as though we were the myrrh-bearing women, “Tell his disciples that he goes before you into Galilee; there you will see Him.” This was the Church telling us where we must go in order to see the risen Savior. So, where is this Galilee we’re supposed to go to? It must have something to do with the interior of the Church, because that’s where we went on Pascha night – that’s where we fled – after we heard with the myrrh-bearing women the news that Jesus is not here. He is risen!
In this morning’s Gospel, too, we see that the paralytic, after he is raised up from his bed at the word of the Savior, is commanded to go somewhere. Now, since we are in the liturgical season of Pascha, we can say that it is the risen Savior who comes to the paralytic in this morning’s Gospel. The risen Savior, therefore, tells the paralytic to take up his bed and, “Go!” That is, take up your cross and follow me into Galilee, into the interior of the Church! The paralytic takes up his bed and goes as Jesus commanded him. He runs into the unbelieving Jews, however. When they ask him who healed him, he’s unable to tell them. He had seen Jesus, but he didn’t know Him. Jesus then finds the man healed of his paralysis, and He reveals Himself to him. Now he sees Him and knows Him, so that he can go back to the unbelieving Jews and tell them that it was Jesus who had healed him. In other words, the man healed of his paralysis did as the Savior commanded him: he took up his bed and went “into Galilee” and he ended up seeing the risen Jesus. This is what the angel had promised the myrrh-bearing women and the disciples of Jesus. Follow Jesus into Galilee and there you will see Him, just as He told you.
So, when I asked where did you go when you left the Church on Pascha night, I meant: when you went back into the world the next day, to work or to the office or to school, did your soul go back into the world, too, or did you continue going on to Galilee or into the interior of the Church so that you could see the risen Savior not as a religious image but as a spiritual reality that is, as the Lord says, in the world even as He is not of the world?
I know that many of you did not want to go back into the world; you wanted to stay in that joy of the Savior’s resurrection on Pascha night. Many of you asked in effect: Now that Great Lent and Pascha are over, how do we stay spiritually strong in the risen Savior so that when we go back into the world we will “sin no more” as Jesus commands the man healed of his paralysis in this morning’s Gospel? The answer is: we must rise and go to Galilee; we must take up our bed, our cross, and go into the interior of the Church. So what is this Galilee we are told to go to in order to see the risen Savior? How do we take up our bed, our cross, and go into the interior of the Church?
Understand that Pascha itself is the mystery of our Baptism, of our passing over from death to life in the crucified and risen Savior. The paralytic in this morning’s Gospel is all of us who were dead in our trespasses, walking or living in this world according to the spirit of disobedience. In other words, we were, like the paralytic, a living corpse, living in the world yet unable to walk in the life of God because we were spiritually dead. The healing of the paralytic is an icon of our baptism. In baptism, we were healed of our spiritual paralysis; we were clothed with the Robe of Light and sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. We were clothed in the resurrection of Christ and sealed in the power of His Holy Spirit. United to Christ, we were made able to trample down all carnal desires and enter upon a spiritual manner of living. And then we went somewhere. The Church led us to the Ambon as though we were following Christ into Galilee, and we received Christ’s “Heavenly Spirit.” Christ Himself became our food and drink; and He entered into our members, our veins and our heart to consume the thorns of our transgressions, to cleanse our soul and to sanctify our reasonings so that we could rise up and enter upon a spiritual manner of living. Christ entered into our heart: our personal center, our inmost self and we became partakers of the divine nature.
Now, “Galilee” has different levels of meaning. It is a region in Palestine, but it also means a “circle.” Now, in our baptism, did we not make our way to the Chalice by way of a circle round the baptismal font? We circled the font three times to symbolize our entering into the spiritual Life of the Holy Trinity (which the fathers describe as a circle: perichoresis). I take Galilee, then, as a symbol for the spiritual Life of the Holy Trinity. In our baptism, we were raised up and led into “Galilee”, into the Life of the Holy Trinity that is in the interior of the Church, the interior of Christ’s body; and the Life of the Holy Trinity, “Galilee”, entered into us in Holy Eucharist, when Christ in His Holy Spirit entered into our members, our veins and our heart. The Kingdom of Heaven, “Galilee”, is now within us – it is in our members, our veins, our heart – even when we go back into the world. To remain strong in the joy of Christ’s holy Resurrection even when we go back into the world, we must follow Christ into “Galilee” – i.e. into our heart.
The heart is a somewhat ambiguous metaphor until we have discovered our heart; then we know from our own experience that when the fathers of the Church talk of descending with the mind into the heart they are speaking of an inner, mystical journey that is really real, which leads to a place within the interior of our being that is really real. This place that is really real, designated by the heart, is our true self; and it opens out beyond itself onto the eternal life of the Holy Trinity. This place is designated by the heart because it is in the physical region of the heart that we find it when we take up our bed, our cross, and follow Christ into Galilee; i.e. when we follow the way of the Lord that leads into the interior of the Church, into the inner reality of the body of Christ, the fullness of Him who is all in all, and into the spiritual Life of the Holy Trinity, the Kingdom of Heaven that is within you – in your heart.
Leading us into our heart is what the ascetic disciplines of the Church are all about. We follow the commandments of Christ not just as rules and precepts but as the mystical radiance of the uncreated light of God that illumines the spiritual path that leads us into Galilee, to the Kingdom of Heaven that is within us, that we may receive the Heavenly Spirit, that we may be united to Christ in body and in soul and become partakers of the divine nature in the eternal life and the unutterable and exalted joy of Christ’s holy resurrection.
When you leave the Church after receiving Holy Eucharist and go back into the world – or rather, when you are sent back into the world as Christ sent His holy apostles into the world – you do not leave your heart, and you do not leave the Kingdom of Heaven, for it is within you. You therefore keep yourself strong in the spiritual joy of Christ’s holy resurrection and in the spiritual Life of the Holy Trinity into which you were raised in your holy baptism by keeping yourself in your heart, or at least by keeping yourself on the path that leads to your heart, the path of prayer and fasting. You fast. Insofar as you are able, you keep yourself away from all sights and sounds, words and deeds that draw you away from the path that leads to your heart. You pray by keeping your mind in your heart, centered on the Name of Jesus, calling on the intercession of the Holy Theotokos and all the saints to help you. You walk, you go, you live according to the commandments of Christ, not according to the ways of the world. Christ’s commandments both protect the inner way that leads to your heart by keeping your soul in stillness so that the inner path is not clouded over and rendered invisible by the turbulence of the passions, and they also lead you into your heart, where one may hope to see God – because God is love, and in your heart you discover yourself as love, for you have been created in the image and likeness of God.
This ascetic work of faith is not easy. That’s why we need the help of the Church. But it is filled with joy. And so in the joy of your baptism, in the unutterable and exalted joy of Christ’s Holy Resurrection, I urge you who saw and heard on Pascha night in the sights and sounds of the Church’s liturgical worship the Good News of Christ’s holy resurrection to do as the Lord commands you this morning: “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” Take up your cross and follow Christ. Take up the ascetic disciplines of the Church – prayer, fasting, charity, studying His Word, practicing His commandments, partaking of His Holy Eucharist – and follow the Church, the body of Christ, into Galilee, into the bridal chamber of your heart, that you may unite yourself to the risen Savior and discover that He is with you in the joy of His resurrection, even when you are in the world; and in the spiritual joy of His living presence within you, let Him illumine your mind and heart with the sweetness of His beauty, and make you to become a light shining in the darkness of this world like a star shining in the night sky, bearing witness by the divine light of your love to the unutterable and exalted joy of Christ’s Holy Resurrection. Amen. Christ is risen!
 Eph 2:1