21 Blind Man and St Euthymius - January 20, 2008

Colossians 3:4-11

Hebrews 13:17-21 (Saint)

Luke 18:35-43

Luke 6:17-23 (Saint)

At some point in the history of western Christian thought, Christians who called themselves theologians began to worship human reason, and Christian theology became rational theology. The birth of rational theology marked the end of what has been called the Age of Faith and the beginning of the so-called Age of Enlightenment, or the Age of Reason. Everything was subjected to the altar of reason, and whatever fell outside the parameters of reason was rejected. If rational religion conceded the existence of a spiritual realm, it insisted that such a realm could not exist contrary to the laws of rationality. Not even God can be contrary to reason, and so rational religion denied the doctrine of the Trinity, and along with that it rejected the doctrines of creation from nothing, the Virgin Birth, the incarnation, and the resurrection from the dead. Jesus was but an ordinary man of extraordinary vision and conviction. The miracles of Jesus recounted in the Scriptures were re-interpreted as metaphors of religious teaching; and lo, miracles ceased.

On this particular Sunday, we celebrate the memory of St Euthymius. Ah, the saints! Such an embarrassment to rational religion. The saints are believe in the Holy Trinity, that the world was created from nothing, that Christ is God the Word made flesh, that he was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, that he healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, cast out devils as though they were real, and that he rose from the dead. More than that, the saints themselves perform miracles. Trusting to the wisdom of its own reason, the world doesn’t know what to do with such stories, so it dismisses them or seeks to discredit them. How many know of the holy fire that suddenly appears on Pascha night to believers and non-believers alike in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher? Do you know of weeping icons that have manifested themselves on innumerable occasions? You won’t hear of such events in the news stories of the world; or, if you do, it will be only to speculate on how they are a hoax perpetrated by Church leaders.

Recently, I was given a book recounting the appearances of the monk-priest St Raphael, together with his deacon, St Nicholas, and a young girl, St Irene on the island of Lesvos. They suffered martyrdom at the hands of Turkish pirates in 1463. In 1959, they began to appear to individuals in dreams and in waking states. Many unbelievers were converted; many who had fallen away from the church returned. They chastised those needing a rebuke, they comforted those needing encouragement. They gave instructions in matters of the faith; and finally, they performed miracles of healing, curing all kinds of diseases from cancer, to blindness, to high blood pressure, to melancholy and madness. How would rational religion explain that? It can’t, and so it doesn’t. You don’t hear about these kinds of miraculous things from rational religion.

St Euthymius, whom we commemorate today, was born in the year 377 AD in Armenia. He became a monk and was ordained to the holy priesthood. Through asceticism and spiritual struggles, he attained to the love of God and was granted by God’s grace the power to perform miracles. People came from everywhere to be healed of their ailments, and he cured them. He is also said to have cast out devils. Since St Euthymius lived so long ago, stories like his can easily be discounted by the modern rational mind as fabrications of gullible, foolish minds. But it’s hard to dismiss them when one hears reports of such miracles still happening today, such as those surrounding the modern day appearances of Sts Raphael, Nicholas and the Virgin Irene on the island of Lesvos, and that in certain places, such as monasteries, such miracles are commonplace, as Fr Maximus tells Kyriacos Markides in Mountain of Silence.

Returning from such miraculous accounts of the saints, one reads again the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ miracles with a deeper sense of wonder; for, the stories of saints down to our own day suggest strongly that the miracles of Jesus did indeed happen. One thinks of Jesus’ words to his disciples in the Gospel of John, when he was preparing them for the mystery of his death on the Cross: “Truly I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do, and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father.”[1] The lives of the saints and the stories of the miracles that surround them down to our own day are for the faithful the concrete evidence of the truth of the Incarnation. God did indeed become man and unite earth to heaven, heal the sick, give sight to the blind, cast out devils, conquered death by his death and on the third day rose again. There is indeed a spiritual realm rational religion cannot explain; our soul does survive death, and there is indeed a judgment.

Therefore, when believers hear or see for themselves such miracles that are from God (and not from the dark spirits, who can also appear as angels of light and perform miracles), they know intuitively to look for its spiritual lesson, for they know that such divine miracles don’t happen for our entertainment but to strengthen us in the faith so that we will heed what the Church is telling us about our souls, and live our lives on this earth in preparation for our death, when we shall appear before the Lord to give an account of how we lived our life on earth, because our body, our mind and our soul belong to him. He gave them to us. He’s the one that brought us from non-existence into being and made us in his image and likeness. We don’t belong to ourselves. We are not our own creator. We are not free to make ourselves over in the image of the latest trendsetter, or the latest rock star, for we are made in the image of God, and we will have to give an account to Christ our God at the Judgment for how we took care of his image in us. Did we use our intellectual gifts, our creative talents, our desires to shape the image of God in us into the likeness of God by living in obedience to the commandments of God, to become martyrs – witnesses – of Christ and the eternal values of his Holy Spirit by our lives, our words and our deeds, following the example and the inspiration of the saints; or did we take the image of God in us to make ourselves cool and hip in the likeness of some worldly figure, according to an image drawn from the wisdom of our own opinions so that our life has become a witness to the values of this world that passes away?

In the Church, the first lesson we learn is that we are the first of all sinners. But in this, the Church shows her mercy toward us; for she is helping us to come into the presence of the Great Physician as did the blind man in this morning’s Gospel for the day, and as did the crowds in this morning’s Gospel for the saint, so that we can experience for ourselves the miracle of his healing grace. One cannot be healed of the effects of one’s sins anymore than one can be healed of one’s physical ailments if one doesn’t acknowledge that one is sick and bring oneself to the physician. The blind man in this morning’s Gospel for the day would not have received his sight if he had not taken himself to the side of the road and waited for the Lord to come. The crowds in this morning’s Gospel for the saint would not have been healed of their sicknesses if they stayed home. And so the Church calls us to come to her, not because we are righteous but precisely because we are sinners. We are sick. The Church is the very body of Christ, and that means that the healing power of Christ’s Heavenly Spirit goes forth from her, in her dogmatic teaching, in her ascetic disciplines, in her liturgical worship, in her holy sacraments.

The Church instructs us to confess our sickness and our sins. She brings us to sit by the side of the road with the blind man, and to wait with him for the Lord and to call on him when he passes by. She teaches us to come from wherever we are, as did the people in this morning’s Gospel for the saint, to where the Lord is in his holy Church, which is his body, and here in the Church to listen to him as they did; to reach out to touch him in the awesome sacrament of Holy Eucharist, that we might be healed. In all of this, the Church is directing us to the sacrament of confession. That is where we acknowledge our sickness and our blindness. That is where we take off the garments of the conceit of our own wisdom, to stand naked before the Lord, so that we can touch him in our soul, no longer screened off from him by the fig leaves of pride and shame that we have woven for ourselves in order to hide from him. It is in the sacrament of confession that we are washed clean and made ready to receive that healing power that comes forth from the body of Christ, the Church, in holy Eucharist.

Rational religion is not enlightened but darkened. Its power is of human reason, which is powerless to heal us of our sicknesses, cleanse us of our sins, or cast out the demons from our souls. The lives of the saints demonstrate concretely beyond all reason the truth of the Christian Faith. It is the evidence that what they teach us is alone the true healing of our souls and body: they teach us to be obedient to the commandments of Christ, to submit in meekness to the teaching of his holy Church and to her ways; for she is the body of Christ, and the healing power of Christ’s Heavenly Spirit goes forth from her. As we make ready for the approach of Great Lent, let us begin now to heed the first command Christ gave in his earthly ministry: Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. If we center our life in the sacrament of confession, we are taking up our cross and setting ourselves constantly before God in the broken and contrite heart he does not despise. We are drawing near to him in humility that he may draw near to us and heal us, and cleanse us of our sins, and raise us up to walk in newness of life in the fear of God, in the joy and hope of coming to our own death as to our own Pascha, when we pass over into Christ’s holy resurrection. Amen.

[1] Jn 14:12