|27 - Healing Our Paralysis, Mar 4, 2018|
For audio, click here
Hebrews 7:26 – 8:2 (St Gregory Palamas)
Hebrews 1:10 – 2:3 (Sunday)
John 10:9 – 16 (St Gregory Palamas)
Mark 2:1 – 12 (Sunday)
The Orthodox Christian Faith is the divine science of the healing of the soul. Man is created in the image and likeness of God; that is his nature. His destiny or purpose is to attain union with God, to become a partaker of the divine nature (II Pt 1:4). But, our nature was corrupted in the Fall of Adam, and all of us now are sick unto death. We are darkened in our soul, and we suffer afflictions and maladies of body and soul of all kinds. To attain our destiny, we need first to be healed in our deep heart. The cleansing and healing of the heart is what the Church understands as “practical philosophy”; it is the first stage of the inner Exodus of the Gospel, the soul’s “journey” to God. (Vlachos, Orthodox Psychotherapy 15 & 24) This is always the true activity of the Church (St Gregory Palamas), but especially in this season of Great Lent.
The root of our spiritual sickness is self-love, our heart turned away from God in the lust to find our life not in God but in ourselves. The lust or greed of self-love is acted out by our will, which proceeds from the heart (Mt 15:18), or from the “eye” that is the lamp of the body (Mt 6:22). Having turned away from the light of God, our heart is shrouded in darkness as under a heavy weight, and we are blind and deaf to the mysteries of God, and therefore to our own nature and destiny.
A recurring image in Holy Scripture is that of a spiritual corpse. Those who worship idols are just like them we read in several places in the prophets and in the Psalms. Like their idols, those who worship idols have eyes but cannot see, ears but cannot hear, mouths that cannot speak, hands and feet that cannot move. All of this is in reference to the invisible realities of God. The prophetic imagery means that we are spiritual corpses; for, what is it to have eyes that do not see, ears that do not hear, hands and feet that do not move, a mouth that does not speak, but to be like a corpse?
Our idols are not of wood or stone. They are invisible, “spiritual”, the passions: gluttony, lust, greed, anger, vanity, pride, and the rest. Think about it: those who worship the world and its ways, ruled by the spiritual idols of the passions, are they not altogether like the world in their speech, their thoughts, the values they live for and hold dear? To illustrate, compare the man who lives for the things and values of the world to a saint who has lived his life in self-denial out of love for God. The difference between people goes much deeper than those who are moral and those who are not, based on moral laws; it’s that between those who are sick in their soul, those who are being healed of their spiritual sickness and those who are healed, the saints. (Vlachos, Orthodox Psychotherapy, 30)
The paralytic is another biblical image, a living image in flesh and blood of the spiritual state of our soul in that, like a corpse, the paralytic cannot move. This prophetic imagery, is it not hopeless? What corpse do you know that is able to raise itself from the dead? What paralytic can make himself move, or get himself to a doctor, if there was even such a doctor who could heal a paralytic? And, who would carry the paralytic to the doctor if we are all of us paralytics?
The holy fathers of the Church say: the fact that we are numb to the tragedy of our spiritual state, such that we feel no motivation to seek out our salvation, but continue blithely to live in the old, familiar ways of our habitual idolatry, even as we suffer from all its symptoms – anxiety, uneasiness, worry, mental anguish of all sorts, depression and despair – this in itself is a symptom of our spiritual death, our inner paralysis. In the Church, however, we are in a safe place. Here, we are free to “let go our defenses” to see and feel the hopelessness of our spiritual death, so that we can cry with St Paul: who will deliver us from this “body of death”, this spiritual paralysis, this living corpse that we are?.
In this prophetic vision, we were “fed” by our Mother Church the words of Isaiah on the first day, Monday, of Great Lent: “Rend your hearts and not your garments!” But, when I turn inward in prayer, into the dark stillness of my “closet”, what I see “way down there” with my inner eye, and what I feel deep within me is my heart that is stone cold dead, unmoved and unmoving. I find that I cannot rend my heart. Were I to try, I would succeed only in manufacturing a contrived sentiment or emotion that would shroud my heart like a thick, dark fog, but it would not even scratch the surface let alone penetrate my heart. I would be left as unfeeling, paralyzed and dead as I was before.
But, there is profound hope in the hopelessness of this prophetic vision. It is given in the only Hope, the true and living God, the LORD Jesus Christ. If I desire to be healed, to be delivered out of the eternal darkness of my sickness unto death, will I not in all diligence seek that Hope? Will I not with all my heart despise the wisdom of my own conceit, the knowledge of my own sight (Isa 5:22), and put my trust not in princes or sons of men – however smart and great they may be in the eyes of the world – but in the LORD Jesus Christ who alone has power over life and death, and to listen with all my heart to do what He commands me to do?
That’s what this morning’s Scripture lesson is all about. Listen: following the lectionary of the Church, we were given to see that we enter the “arena of repentance”, this season of Great Lent in a mystical way as into the Sabbath Rest of the LORD’s Tomb. From imagery drawn from the Scriptures, the liturgical hymns of the Church and the holy fathers, we were shown how to enter the mystery of the LORD’s Sabbath Rest: it is by turning inward with the myrrh-bearing women into our “closet” (Mt 6:6), or into the “tomb of our heart” (St Macarius, Hom 11.11), in the sacred stillness of prayer. The sacred stillness (Lk 23:55) refers to fasting, for it is in fasting that our body and mind grow still so that we can pray – the prayers of the Church, since we do not know how to pray as we ought.
We take up the fast in prayer. Do you see? With my intention, so long as I am in this life, I can move my hands, my feet, my mind, my will, like the “four” in this morning’s Gospel, to carry my paralyzed heart to the LORD who is in the house in this morning’s Gospel as He is in the Tomb of His Sabbath Rest, as He is in the “tomb” of my heart as the Light that began to illumine the tomb even when they placed His Body in the Tomb on the Sabbath (epifosken - Lk 23:54). The ascetic disciplines of the fast, these are what uncover the roof of the house of my heart; let’s say they roll the stone away, that I may enter my heart where the LORD is shining in the Glory of His Resurrection; for, remember, these ascetic disciplines are the flowers that grow from the wood of the Cross (Lenten Triodion 231) and they are filled with the power, the Resurrection and the Life of Christ’s Cross.
It says in the Gospel this morning that the paralyzed man arose immediately, and all who saw it were amazed. The word is very close to the ekstasis that took hold of the myrrh-bearing women when they fled the tomb of the LORD’s resurrection in fear and trembling. This sets before us the “end game” of the Fast, or what is really going on, hidden, inside our soul through the Fast. We don’t just fast for 40 days and stop. These 40 days of the Fast are taking us, mystically, to the raising of Lazarus on the last day of Lent. We take up the Fast so that, in the forgiveness of our sins and in the healing of our spiritual paralysis, we may with “grace and strength, with good courage and in joy, complete the course of the Fast and come to the royal day of the LORD’s Resurrection and praise Him without ceasing” (LTS 81).
Do you see? In forgiving us our sins, the LORD heals us of our spiritual paralysis, so that we may “rise up and go out” with the healed paralytic into the joy of the LORD’s Holy Pascha. This is a new creation in which we put on Christ in the mystery of His Sabbath and so attain to the likeness of God that is our natural destiny. We are granted to become partakers of the divine nature (II Pt 1:4). The old garments of this “body of death” are made to perish in the fire of the LORD’s Pascha, and we are clothed in the new garments, the Robe of the Light of Christ that illumines all. Amen.