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Four things strike me in this morning’s Scripture lessons: 1) the Paschal shape of Sts Paul and Silas’ deliverance from prison. It is but one instance showing how their life was now being shaped from within, through their union with Christ, in the likeness of His death and resurrection. As was Christ, they are beaten with rods and many “stripes” are laid on them. As was Christ, they are put in the inner prison; their feet are fastened securely in iron bars of stocks. There is a deeper level to this image: they are descending with Christ into hell where the whole race of man is held in bondage to death under the power of the devil (cf. Heb 2:14).
There is another level yet in the spiritual substance beneath their imprisonment. The beatings they suffer at the hands of the guards signify how we in our soul are assaulted by the passions. To unite ourselves to Christ does not mean that we escape the assaults of the passions in our inner man. But, neither is it true to say that now we begin to be assaulted when before we were not. Rather, I think it truer to say that to unite ourselves to Christ opens our inner eyes to see how everyone is being beaten invisibly by the spirits of darkness, and that all of us have been thrown into the inner prison and held fast by the iron bars of spiritual death. The difference between the believer and the nonbeliever I see to be this: the unbeliever does not resist the passions, and he is blind to how they are wounding his soul. The believer is resisting the passions, and in this he begins to see how they work on his soul. But, he accepts the inner suffering this resistance brings not just for his own salvation but on behalf of all; for to believe in Christ is to be united with Him to the inner suffering of all mankind in one’s inner man.
Let us note, then, that Sts Paul and Silas, there in the inner prison, their feet fastened securely to the iron bars, were praying and singing hymns at Midnight – an image of the Feast of Pascha! But, this is also an image of the inner work that St Paul in his letters, with all the holy fathers, instruct us to do: descending with your mind into the “tomb” of your heart, pray without ceasing; for the Bridegroom comes at Midnight.
And, the angel of the LORD descends as he did to the Tomb of Christ on Pascha Night. And, as when Christ was raised from the dead, there was an earthquake, the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed, an embodiment in space-time of Christ in His Resurrection breaking the gates of brass and the iron bars of the soul’s imprisonment in hell (cf. Ps 106:10-16 LXX), and of Christ working His salvation in the midst of the earth (Ps 74:12), in the tomb of every believer’s heart!
2) Sts Paul and Silas are persecuted by religious people. So also in this morning’s Gospel, the religious authorities of the synagogue, in their religious self-righteousness, do not believe in Jesus and they expel the man born blind from the synagogue.
3) A major theme of the Midfeast was the people marveling at the wisdom of Jesus and saying to each other: Where did this man get his knowledge of the Law to instruct the rabbis of the synagogue who are experts on the Law? We watched last Sunday the Samaritan woman become a teacher of everyone in her city, and her teaching was: “Come, see the Christ of whom the Scriptures speak!” And, this morning, we see the blind man becoming the teacher of the synagogue, teaching the rabbis that, according to the Law, this Jesus is from God because He healed him of his blindness. We see how those who are healed by Christ become teachers of the Law, not from any academic training but from their own inner experience.
So, just what is their inner experience that makes them wise teachers in the Wisdom of the Law? This brings me to the fourth thing that strikes me.
4) On Pascha Night, we heard from St John’s Gospel that this Jesus who is risen from the dead is the WORD of God who “was in the beginning with the Father, in whom all things were made. In Him was life,” it says, “and the life was the light of men. He was the true light who illumines every man, coming into the world.” (Jn 1:1-6)
On Tuesday last, we commemorated St John, and our epistle that morning was from the first chapter of his first epistle. “What we heard, what we saw with our eyes, what we beheld, what we handled with our hands, the WORD of Life who was with the Father and was made manifest to us. God is light, and there is no darkness in Him at all” (I Jn 1:1-5). Standing at the Divine Liturgy that morning, may I say that when I heard this, I saw that the light created by the WORD, the Light of God in the beginning, is the (created) life of creation (cf. Gn 1:2).
St John goes on to say that this Light – not the created light of creation but the uncreated Light of God – is what they proclaim to us, and they proclaim it to us so that we might have communion with the apostles whose communion is with the Holy Trinity; and, they desire communion with us so that their joy might be made full. Now, St John says in the passage we read on Tuesday: “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” He says again, “God is love” (I Jn 4:8).
May I say again that as I heard all this I saw clearly that this Light of God that Christ is, is the love that God is; the love of God is the Light of God; the Light and Love of God are the Life of God, and their essential property is joy in communion, which is to be alive; to be alive in God is to be illumined in joy. This joy is ignited in the heart spontaneously like fire when we receive into our heart the love of God; for it destroys the death that we were enslaved to, it illumines the darkness that blinded us, it changes our sorrow into joy, a divine joy that dissolves enmity and hatred in the love of God – as we see it happening this morning. The prison guard was an enemy. Then, the love natural to his heart was ignited by the Christian love of Sts Paul and Silas. Received through baptism into the death of Christ, he was raised up into the communion of the apostles, in the divine love and joy of the Holy Trinity, and he was transfigured from an “enemy” into a “brother” in Christ!
From these four things, I see that the essential property of the LORD’s Holy Pascha – His death and Resurrection – which imbues every sign and wonder and healing He performs, every word He preaches, every teaching He gives, is the love of God that those who believe, who lay aside the self-righteous arrogance of their religiosity to stand with this man born blind, can feel in their heart in the “form” (the substantive reality –morphe – as in Phil 2:6-7) of divine joy and love.
This love of God is what touched Photini in her heart when the teaching of Christ touched her ears and filled her with joy; this is what opened the heart of the blind man when the LORD opened his eyes to make him a teacher of Wisdom. This is what touches the hearts of those who believe, who receive in humility, in hunger and thirst for this LORD Jesus Christ who first loved us (I Jn 4:19) in the WORD of His Church that rains on us the love and joy of God in all her prayers and hymns and doctrines.
This joy and love of Christ is the power of the Gospel that draws all men to Christ and His Bride, the Church. He is the One who in the WORD of His Gospel and in the liturgical and sacramental worship of the Church, His Body that was crucified and is now risen and glorified, rolls the stone from the tomb of the heart and opens the inner eye so that in His Light we see light; in His Love, we see that the principle of creation is love and joy. In this love, this joy, this light, this life, the Church, the Body of Christ, calls out to all of us: In the fear of God, with faith and love, draw near. Draw near the Fire of God’s love that burns away the iron bars that hold us captive to death, that illumines our inner darkness, that opens the eyes of the soul, that creates our heart anew so that it now beats with divine joy and love. Come out of the darkness of this world. Come to the Light. Come to Christ’s Holy Church, and in the fear of God, with faith and love, draw near and drink the Living Water of Christ’s Holy Spirit, all you who are thirsty, and never thirst again. Amen!