14 - Healing of Ten Lepers, Dec 4, 2016 (with audio)

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Ephesians 2:14-22

Luke 17:12-19

The prayers of the Church themselves teach us to look for the spiritual meaning of the Gospels. In several places, they teach us to see our soul as “all leprous and sinful.” It’s easy to see the leprosy of the body; it’s not easy at all to see the leprosy of the soul. The soul is invisible and immaterial, and so is the leprosy of the soul.

In the Holy Scripture, leprosy along with paralysis, blindness, deafness and dumbness seems to be the quintessential manifestation of all sicknesses and infirmities. Paralysis and the others render their victims like living corpses; the blind have eyes but they don’t see. The deaf have ears but they don’t hear. The dumb have mouths but they don’t speak. The paralytic has hands and feet that can’t feel or walk.

But, there’s something about leprosy that seems to make it the most insidious of all infirmities. It not only sickens its victim, and deforms his body into grotesque forms so that he hardly looks human, but it also cuts him off completely from his home and loved ones. He is expelled from the camp and becomes like a ghost. He can talk but no one hears him. If he is seen or draws near, everyone flees from him. The only people he can associate with are other lepers, and the leper colony becomes like an encampment in the loneliness of hell.

There is a demonic character in these effects of leprosy on its victims that shows leprosy to be even more vicious when the effects of leprosy are compared to its divine archetype that it seems to mock. When God creates the world, you’ll remember how He separates things: night from day, e.g., the firmament above from the firmament below, the waters from the dry land and so forth. This act of creation continues with the separation of Israel from the nations, and within Israel the separation of food that is unfit for eating from food that is fit for eating, even of the Levites from the rest of the tribes, and the Temple or Tent of Meeting from the rest of the camp. The purpose of all this divine separating is to create a holy space and a holy people whose holiness equips them to become a priestly nation in whom all the nations of the earth will be blessed and the world sanctified. In the words of the creation of Adam and Eve: that every living thing and all the earth will be placed under the dominion of the LORD God through the priestly character of Man. In other words, everything will become one and holy, clean and righteous in communion with the Living God.

But leprosy separates with an absolutely opposite effect. It doesn’t separate unto sanctification and cleanness but unto uncleanness. It doesn’t separate unto communion but unto alienation. It doesn’t separate unto life in God but unto separation from God and unto the death and corruption that follow from that. When Israel was obedient to God and did not give herself to idols, she was invincible. The uncleanness, or let’s call it the leprosy of idolatrous nations could not conquer her or make her unclean. But, when she gave herself over to the worship of idols, she was no longer invincible and was easily overcome by the idolatrous nations and became leprous, unclean herself.

If all of this is the character of the leprosy of the body, it is also the character of the leprosy of the soul. The Church teaches us how to see what our physical eyes can’t see: while none of us may be lepers in the body, we are “all leprous and sinful” in our soul because of our sins and trespasses; i.e., we are separated not by God to the fragrance of sanctification and life in communion with God but from God to the stench of uncleanness and death and corruption that follows from separation from God through disobedience of His commandments.

Here, I have indicated that leprosy of the body is a kind of embodiment of the spiritual effect idolatry or disobedience of the divine commandments has on the soul. This biblical or spiritual understanding of leprosy opens our mind to see from the teaching of Holy Scripture the symptoms of our spiritual leprosy. St Paul in several places points out the marks of idolatry which, as such, are the symptoms of spiritual leprosy: fornication (or indulging in pornography, from porneia), unclean passion (or, desire that willfully defies the divine ordinance that has “separated” the clean from the unclean), carnal or perhaps visceral desire that is evil (epithumia, because there is in the bible an epithumia, a carnal desire, that is pure – it is the body giving all of its desire to God to be sated in Him in accordance with His commandments), greed or covetousness, anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy (swearing, can we say?), foul talk (vulgar language, can we say?)  (Col 3:5).

Notice how these symptoms of spiritual leprosy, like leprosy of the body, show no partiality. Spiritual leprosy, like leprosy of the body, has no regard for one’s race or gender or social status or religious confession. Once we begin to understand that these are symptoms of spiritual leprosy, perhaps we can begin to see the lie we have been living in, a lie that is easy for us to believe because, unlike physical leprosy, we cannot see the spiritual leprosy that afflicts the soul. We may see ourselves as believers and call ourselves Christians, even Orthodox Christians, because of our baptism. But the presence of these symptoms in us shows that at least on some level, and at least in some parts of our soul, we are leprous and sinful (although the prayer of the Church teaches us to acknowledge that we are wholly leprous and sinful). I.e., we are not believers but idolaters; we are not clean but unclean, we are not holy but sinners, we are not spiritually healthy; we are spiritually unhealthy.

If I may speak to the memes shaping the social mind of our culture today, the biblical teaching on these “symptoms” of our idolatry or leprosy shows where we really are sick and where the cleansing of our sickness is found and how that cleansing comes about. Our inner suffering of whatever kind it may be does not stem, for example, from the fact that our bodily gender is out of whack with the gender we identify with, or because our sexual orientation is this or that. And this is demonstrated from this biblical teaching in that even if we were to “fix” our sexuality and/or gender in accordance with what we feel or believe according to our own opinion, we still manifest these symptoms of spiritual leprosy. This biblical teaching exposes the lie of those who believe they are “normal” and “healthy” in their sexual orientation and gender identity. In the light of this biblical teaching, they see that they, too, suffer from these symptoms of spiritual leprosy.

The healing of our soul and body, according to the Church, is not to “transition” ourselves into the gender we “identify” with, or to “come out” of the closet or for the rest of us to rest smugly in our “normalcy”. We are all of us lepers; we have all sinned and each one of us has gone our own way. We are all of us dead in our sins and trespasses, because all of us have followed after the wisdom of our own opinion and we have not obeyed the WORD of the LORD. All of us need healing, and our healing comes from submitting ourselves deep in our heart in obedience to the WORD of the LORD.

In the beginning, the LORD speaks, heaven and earth obey, and they are created (Ps 33:9). The WORD of the LORD, i.e., is life-creating. What He creates is good, it is holy; and the Man whom He creates is created in His own image and likeness. When this WORD of the LORD is made flesh from the Holy Virgin, you see how He goes about teaching and healing. His word heals; His healing teaches. His word heals by creating in us a clean heart. His healing teaches us by illumining us with the uncreated Light of His Wisdom that we receive not as a teaching but as an event, a happening that raises us from death to life by putting to death all that is earthly in us.

We know, I think, we have been healed when, like the one leper, we find our heart manifesting the symptoms of our having been separated by the LORD God from what is unclean unto our sanctification: the symptoms of love, joy, peace in which we spontaneously, in faith and in love and thanksgiving draws near to the Holy One who has saved us, our LORD Jesus Christ. Amen!