|13 - Woman With Infirmity, November 27, 2011|
When Martha and Mary came to the Savior in grief over the death of their beloved brother, Lazarus, He replied to them: “I Am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live. If you believe, you will see the glory of God.” (Jn 11:25, 40) So, when it says in this morning’s Gospel that Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath, we should know that the Resurrection was in the synagogue on that Sabbath morning, for Christ was there, even though the actual event of His Holy Resurrection was still to come.
If Christ is present on the Sabbath, how can the Sabbath not become a day of healing and salvation, for the Resurrection and the Life is “in our midst”? How, then, could this woman not have been healed even and especially on the Sabbath? When she was healed on the Sabbath, she was being taken up already into His death that destroys death, and she was being raised up into the Sabbath rest of Christ when Christ rested from the victorious work He had accomplished on Great and Holy Friday. Therefore, when Christ healed and restored people to life on the Sabbath Day, He was but announcing in deed what He proclaimed to Martha and Mary: “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” He showed that the Sabbath is holy not just because God rested on that day from the work of creation “He had begun to do” (according to the LXX), but because the Sabbath now prefigured the Great and Holy Saturday when Christ God would rest from the work of creation that He would “finish” by His death on the Cross on Great and Holy Friday.
The healing on the Sabbath of this woman was of the Resurrection and the Life. Therefore, it was not merely releasing her from the spirit of weakness or infirmity on a Sabbath morning; it was a prophetic miracle of healing that pointed to the glory of Great and Holy Saturday when Christ would rest from His victory over death on the Cross on Great and Holy Friday. It was an evangelical miracle proclaiming the glory of Christ God who is Himself the Resurrection and the Life, and who has become flesh and is now in our midst. It proclaimed that the illnesses and diseases and infirmities of our life in this world are about to be destroyed at their root, which is death; that the victorious light of Christ’s Resurrection was already streaming forth from His tomb back into time, and illumining that Sabbath morning in the synagogue and every Saturday as the proclamation of Holy Pascha: Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tomb bestowing life! With Christ present, the Sabbath, Saturday, now announces God’s victorious rest in His tomb that makes the tomb for those who believe to be the font of their resurrection into the life of God, the womb of the new birth from above as sons and daughters of God in the glory of Christ, the Resurrection and the Life.
This morning, we have come together, and so we have formed a kind of “synagogue” for “coming together” is what “synagogue” means. We have come together in the Orthodox Church, which is the body of Christ, the fullness of Him who is all in all. We have come together on Sunday, “The Lord’s Day”, the Day of the Lord’s Resurrection. So, when you crossed the threshold this morning and came into the church, you were stepping into the mystery of Christ’s body and into the glory of God, into the spiritual presence of Him who is Himself the Resurrection and the Life. You stand this morning before the Royal Doors as before the tomb of Christ’s Holy Resurrection. You stand at the foot of His Cross, which rises before us into the heavens, waiting for us to lay hold of it in the glory of God, in our union with Christ, to climb up out of our darkness and into the glory of Christ’s Holy Resurrection.
Here in the Church, Christ is calling to us as He called out to this woman in the synagogue on that Sabbath morning. The Resurrection and the Life is calling to us this morning. He sees us just as He beheld the woman in this morning’s Gospel, for having entered the Church, we have entered into the mystery of His body and into the light of His Holy Resurrection. And to each of us He is calling out the command: “Be released of your infirmity, be loosed from your weakness.” The command is echoed by St Paul in his first letter to the Thessalonians: “This is the will of God, your sanctification; therefore, put away from yourselves (be released from) sexual immorality (porneia, from which the word pornography is derived), and see that each of you keeps your body in holiness and honor and not in the lustful passions of the belly, as do the heathen who do not know, or who have not seen God.” (I Th 4:3-5). Or, his words in his letter to the Colossians: “Put all these things away (be released from all these things): anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth.” (Col 3:5-9). All of these things named by St Paul belong to the spirit of weakness or infirmity that afflicts all of us just as it afflicted the woman in this morning’s Gospel so that she could not stand up straight. They afflict us in our bodies in all the infirmities our bodies are subject to. They afflict us in our soul in the perversity of our lustful desires that make us weak in our love for God and the beauty of the Spirit; weighed down by this spirit of weakness, we become so weak that our soul becomes ignorant of and indifferent to the things of God; and in the ensuing darkness of soul and spirit that descends on us, we are weighed down with anxiety and fear, frustration, envy, jealousy and greed.
This spirit of weakness that afflicts us has enslaved us to death and corruption. And, we learn from Christ’s Holy Church that this “corruption came about through eating.” The spirit of weakness comes about through eating. I take from this that the spirit of weakness has taken root in our soul and our bodies in a bodily way, weighing us down in body and soul with the perversity of lustful desires, physical infirmities and deformities and the many different psychological maladies that afflict us; and we cannot “be released” from this spirit of weakness, this corruption of death that we are subject to, apart from observing the fasts enjoined on us by Christ’s Holy Church. That is to say, it is not enough simply to try to restrain ourselves from doing these things or by trying to keep our minds from dwelling on them. Taking root in our bodies, this spirit of weakness, this corruption of body and soul must be rooted out by tackling it in a physical way: i.e. by fasting with our stomachs and with all of our bodily senses, by making prostrations, the sign of the cross, almsgiving, as well as with a mind kept sober by vigilance, in order to root out of our soul and our body the lustful desires that belong to this spirit of weakness and its ensuing corruption that is unto death, so that we may become in both soul and body vessels of honor, made ready for the sanctification, the glory of Christ’s victory over death in His Holy Resurrection that is God’s will for us.
“Be released from your infirmity.” This is a commandment of Christ; and so, it is filled with the Life of Christ’s Resurrection. It is of the same order as the Word by which He commanded the world to come into existence, to be “released”, if you will, from out of the dark emptiness of the abyss. Obedient to this word, the world came into being and began to live. And, if we are obedient to it and begin to walk, to live in accordance with it, putting away from ourselves sexual immorality, anger, lust and the rest, in the instant of our obedience, we, too, begin to live. In the moment of our obedience, we are met by God’s bounteous grace. As we take up our cross in obedience to Christ, His grace raises us up into the victory of Great and Holy Friday.
For, as He did to the woman in this morning’s Gospel when He stretched out His hand and touched her and healed her of her infirmity, her weakness, so He does to all who come to His Holy Church and into the presence of Him who is Himself the Resurrection and the Life, and who believe in Him, and who draw near to Him in the fear of God, with faith and love. He stretches forth His mighty hand and in the sacramental mysteries of the Church, He touches us and makes us Orthodox. He makes us “straight” so that, like the woman in this morning’s Gospel, we “glorify” God; for that’s how you could translate the word, “Orthodox”: “glory that comes from being straight, from being aligned with God.”
Christ Our God, Who is Himself the Resurrection and the Life, aligns us with God when we receive Him in the sacramental mysteries of His Holy Church. His Resurrection and Life are sown in our bodies and in our souls and we “become incorruptible through eating” the most pure body and most precious blood of Holy Eucharist, the heavenly food of the Resurrection and Life of God. In the glory of this witness of the Church, let us turn in obedience to the Savior and strive to live no more for the lusts of the flesh but for the love of Christ, the Resurrection and the Life. O Lord Jesus Christ, glory to Thee. O Most Holy Theotokos, save us!