|37 - SIXTH SUNDAY OF PASCHA, May 29, 2022|
Acts 16.16 – 34
John 9.1 – 38
We read in Acts last Thursday how St Paul exhorts the faithful in Lystra, Iconium and Antioch to abide in the Faith because, he says, ‘To enter the Kingdom of Heaven, we must pass through many tribulations.’ (Acs 14.22)
Tribulations surge all around us in the sea of this life under skies increasingly darkened by storm clouds of evil whose thunderclaps are drawing ever closer, judging from their increasing frequency and loudness. It’s easy to take our eyes off the LORD and sink in dismay, overwhelmed by anger and fear at the sight and sound of the angry waves towering over us, and so become blind to the LORD in His Resurrection walking on the waters of the stormy sea.
But in the Divine Liturgy, we are in the Ark of the Church. We are in the mystery of Christ’s risen Body and Blood in which He strides through the angry sea of this life as the Ark of Noah cutting through the stormy waters of the flood. Here, in the Ark of the Church, surrounded by the saints and martyrs, immersed in the prayers of the Church, we can recover the heavenly vision of our baptism and lift our eyes again to see Christ who, through the sacramental Faith of His Holy Church, lives in our heart having conquered death and overthrown the devil.
In the Ark of the Church, we are in the empty Tomb of the LORD’s Sabbath Rest, not as in a ‘tomb’ but as in the Fountainhead of our resurrection. It seems to me that these eight weeks of Pascha are an icon in time of the Sabbath Rest of the LORD’s empty Tomb. On Holy Friday evening, when we came into the Church under the Shroud, we came mystically inside the LORD’s Tomb. We were now inside the icon of Pascha. And so it was that, inside the icon of the LORD’s Holy Pascha, inside the LORD’s Tomb, we witnessed the LORD’s Resurrection on Pascha Night. All the daily Gospels, but especially the Sunday Gospels of these eight weeks of Pascha, take place mystically inside the Tomb of the LORD’s Sabbath Rest. The healing of the man born blind this morning takes place on the Sabbath. The healing of the paralytic two Sundays ago took place on the Sabbath. The LORD came to Photini last Sunday at the Sixth Hour. Pascha Night took place in the Beginning; the Gospels of the Myrrhbearers and of St Thomas took place on Day One of the week, Sunday, in the Sabbatical setting of the LORD’s empty Tomb.
This liturgical theology of the Orthodox Church teaches us that while we are still in the world in our bodies, in our spirit, through our baptism, we are in the Tomb of the LORD’s Sabbath Rest—which is a ‘tomb’ no more. For the LORD by His death has shattered death. He has cleansed the Tomb—He has emptied it of death and corruption—and He has transfigured it to make it now the ‘womb’ of our Mother, the Church, who has conceived and given birth to the risen LORD Jesus Christ. She, the Church, the Bride of Christ, now holds within Her bosom—here and now in the world’s Last Day, in the true and mystical Sabbath—the whole mystery of the LORD’s Pascha from His death and burial to His Holy Resurrection to His Ascension in Glory.
When the believer, then, is raised from the Font of the Church, he is born as a new creation. For he has put off the old man who was of the earth; he has put on the new man who is of the Spirit. In his spirit, he is no longer of the world for he has passed over from death to life. Blind from birth, he has been washed and illumined (baptized) and now he sees in an unseeing way. For in the Font, he entered the Tomb of the LORD’s Sabbath Rest and descended into the fountainhead of the LORD’s Resurrection and His Ascension into Heaven.
On this the Sixth Sunday of Pascha, inside the mystery of the LORD’s Holy Sabbath, the Church—the Body, the Ark of Christ—brings us to the foothills of ‘The Mountain’ of the LORD’s Ascension. I would have you to ‘see,’ from the liturgical shape of Pascha, that the Mountain of the LORD’s Ascension is revealed as the ‘outlet of the Sea’ of Ezekiel’s vision (Eze 47.8), for it is in His Ascension on the Mountain that the LORD completes His journey through Galilee to the East and through the Arabah, the desert (His Tomb), to go out into the ‘Sea,’ out into the deep, beyond all things, out into the Kingdom of Heaven that is within you! (Lk 17.21; Jer 17.9 LXX)
So, let’s read Ezekiel’s vision again. It says, ‘These Waters issue out toward Galilee in the east. They go down into the desert and into the sea. And when these Waters go forth into the sea, the waters [of creation] shall be healed.’ [47.8]
‘When these Waters go forth into the sea.’ When the LORD Jesus Christ is placed in the Tomb, well, now the vision of Ezekiel is transposed to a higher key. For now the East Gate of the Temple that we saw before as the Holy Virgin from whose sacred womb the Mighty River, led by the Holy Spirit, flowed out into Galilee as the LORD God incarnate all the way to the outlet of the Sea, which we saw before as His Tomb—now the East Gate from which the Mighty River issues forth into Galilee is revealed to be the LORD’s Tomb [Lo! He goes before you into Galilee!] and the Mighty River is the Holy Spirit that now carries the LORD’s Body into His Resurrection to the outlet of the Sea, now revealed as the Mountain of the LORD’s Ascension in Glory.
‘Then the waters [of creation] shall be healed,’ it says. The LORD says to His disciples: ‘If I do not go away [out into the ‘outlet of the Sea’] the Comforter will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.’ (Jn 16:7) On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit issues from the East Gate of the Heavenly Temple; He issues as Living Waters from Christ, the Prince sitting now and ‘eating bread’ (Holy Eucharist, cf. Rev 3.20) before the LORD or at the Right Hand of the Father, again as Ezekiel foretold (cf. Eze 44.3); and, as we see in the Acts of the Apostles, with the pouring out of the Holy Spirit as a fountain upon the earth (Isa 55.10, Joel 2.28&3.18; cf. Gn 2.5-6), the healing of the waters of creation begins. In the Church, in the Body of ‘Christ’, the Holy Spirit has gone forth into all the world, and all who receive the WORD of the apostolic preaching and are baptized in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Mt 28.19-20), the Spirit unites to the Body and Blood of Christ, ‘the Prince sitting before the LORD in the Temple eating bread.’ In the Font, in the LORD’s Tomb, in the LORD’s Sabbath Rest, He raises them from death to life. He lifts them out of the stormy sea and places them in the Ark of the Church, washed and illumined and cleansed, even deified, for they are given the Bread of the LORD, the LORD’s very Body and Blood that comes down from Heaven in the Living Waters of His Heavenly Spirit, as their food and drink.
How, then, do we step into the Current of the LORD’s Mighty River, the Living Waters of His Holy Spirit, that we may follow Him through Galilee, our everyday life, into the desert of our death and to the East, His Resurrection, out into the Sea of His Holy Ascension into His Heavenly Kingdom that is within us?
Immediately following the healing of the man born blind, after the Pharisees expel him from the synagogue, the LORD says: ‘I am the Shepherd of the Sheep who comes to His Sheep through the door.’ The door in this instance is the ‘secret man of the heart.’ ‘The gatekeeper opens the door to the Shepherd,’ the LORD says. The gatekeeper is our mind or ‘spirit,’ our faculty of knowing and discernment. ‘The sheep hear the Shepherd’s voice, and He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out.’ He raises them from the Baptismal Font; He raises them from their graves (Eze 37.10-12) and leads them into Galilee, their everyday life, through the sea of this life surging with ‘many tribulations,’ to the outlet of the Sea, their grave. (Eze 47.8 and Eze 37.10-12) And His sheep follow Him for they know His voice. But they will flee from a stranger, for they do not know the voice of a stranger. (Jn 10:3-5)
We step into the Current of the LORD’s Mighty River, then, by fixing our eyes not on the stormy sea but on the LORD Jesus Christ walking on the waters of the stormy sea. But how can our eyes see this LORD Jesus if we are blind from birth? By descending into the ‘tomb of our heart’ in the Living Waters of prayer to hear the voice of the Shepherd as did the man born blind from birth this morning, taking heed not to listen to our own voice or the voice of the Prince of this world whispering in our ear or shouting at us through his mouthpieces, all the self-righteous Pharisees in the ‘synagogue’ of this world outside the Tomb of the LORD’s Sabbath Rest.
The LORD says: ‘For judgment I have come into the world.’ This, as He says, is not (yet) the judgment of condemnation but the judgment that gives sight to those who are blind and blindness to those who see. (Jn 9.39) That is, He gives sight to those who confess their blindness, i.e., He cleanses and raises to life those who confess their sins. But those who say they see, who say they have no sin, remain in their blindness, they remain in their sins. (cf. 1 Jn 1.4ff.)
From the LORD’s WORD, then, we know we are following the True Shepherd to the outlet of the Sea when we begin to ‘see’ and to confess our blindness. A miracle, the healing of creation, begins to happen when we truly confess our blindness, our sins: we begin to see the LORD walking, victorious, on the waters of the stormy sea; and we may find ourselves walking, victorious in our union with Christ, on the water, following Him up the Mountain to the outlet of the Sea and out into the deep of His Heavenly Kingdom that is within us. To Him who has destroyed death and overthrown the devil be all glory, honor and worship! Amen!