Sunday of the Man Born Blind, Sixth Sunday of Easter

The story of the Man Born Blind is the third Sunday Gospel in Pascha about the mystery of baptism. This gospel is very clear, “Jesus spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his the blind man’s) eyes, and said to him, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed, and came back able to see” (John 9:6-7). The clay represents the anointing we receive at baptism, making us “Anointed Ones,” (Christs, or Christians) and the washing represents the washing in the water of baptism. The blind man can then see, he is “enlightened,” the name the Church gives to baptism. Two observations: to be truly enlightened, we need humility. 

We need to know that only God can give us the vision we need. To do that, we cannot rely on our own “opinions,” we must hear his Word in the gospel, we must worship him with his people, we must be attentive to the voice of his shepherds in the teaching of the Church. If we believe only in ourselves, we risk condemnation, as Jesus told the Pharisees, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains” (John 9:41). True knowledge comes only from the Holy Spirit, “But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things” (1 John 2:20). The second observation is that in these three weeks, our Lord calls to baptism the most unlikely people: a friendless man lying lame by a pool, a shameless woman with serial husbands, and a blind man about whom the disciples ask, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2).

Jesus responds, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him” (John 9:3). Thus separating the wrath of God from the judgment of sin. God truly hates evil, which brings death and failure, but he loves the sinner with infinite divine love. If we suffer because of our sins, it is because that is the “wages” of sin (Romans 6:23). We see in these three Sundays that God is merciful and wishes the salvation of all. He calls us all to enlightenment in baptism, so that we can live in the Holy Spirit.”

The Samaritan Woman

The theme of baptism continues in this Sunday’s Gospel, re-affirming that Pascha is a feast of resurrection and of baptism, being born into eternal life. The center of Jesus’ conversation with this unnamed woman (the Church later gave her the name Photine, the “enlightened woman”) is about water. They met at Jacob’s well, a place of great tradition, a sign and a promise of God’s love and mercy for his people. Jacob’s well provided the riches of water to a desert place, the sign that God would always provide for and bless his people. However, the encounter with the woman reveals something more: Jesus is the Messiah to come, he is greater than the Patriarch Jacob. The water of Jacob’s well is only for this world, Jesus would give “the water that would become a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14). This clearly refers to our baptisms, as it comes immediately after the comparison of Jesus with John the Baptist, and the baptisms done by Jesus’ disciples. We renew our baptism every time we receive Communion, and they are for life, for eternal life, from God, the giver of life.

A couple of observations: as for Nathaniel, Jesus signs his ministry with intimate knowledge of the people he meets. He sees Nathaniel under the fig tree, and he tells the woman about her five husbands. In both cases, they become his disciple because of his knowledge of him. This is a theme of John’s Gospel, the shepherd knows his sheep and his sheep know him. Second, it should be to our wonder that Jesus always comes to the most underprivileged. To whom does he reveal the mystery of eternal life in baptism: to the paralytic who had no friends, to the woman who had led a shameful life, and came to the well at noon who no one else would be there, and to the blind man suspected of sin because of his blindness. And the disciples marvel that Jesus speaks to a woman! Not just any woman, but a heretical, decadent Samaritan woman! Are we humble enough to accept Jesus as our Messiah?

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Sunday of the Paralytic Man

There are six Sundays in the forty day celebration of the Resurrection (corresponding to the forty days until the Ascension as recorded in the Gospel of Luke). The first three Sundays have a gospel of the Resurrection and the second three a gospel with a baptismal theme. Sadly, in our day the baptismal theme of the Feast of Pascha has sometimes been eclipsed, But Paul’s Letter to the Romans makes that connection: “Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. (Romans 6:3-4)” This Sunday, we see this is the story of the Paralytic Man. He was without friends, paralyzed for thirty-eight years and unable to get into the pool when the angel touched the waters. However, he finds a friend in our Lord, who asks, “Do you want to be well?” This gospel affirms the sacramental mystery of baptism: it is not the water touched by an angel that cures the man, but the ultimate power of healing comes from the Lord, in the waters of baptism touched by the Holy Spirit sent by the Lord.

The Gospel of John is truly a proclamation of the Son of God who sends the Spirit. It also affirms the meaning of baptism, which is the rejection of evil and the commitment to Christ. “Do you want to be well?” Jesus asks, and then the healed man proclaims Jesus as his Healer. Some of the liturgical meaning is lost in some modern Bibles who relegate verse 4 about the angel touching the water to a footnote, as a passage not found in the earliest versions.

“O Christ, cure my soul as you once cured the paralytic man, for it is under the influence of evil and sin. Guide me that I may walk in your paths.” (Ode 5, Matins)

“From time to time an angel of the Lord came to stir up the waters of the pool of the Sheepgate. One man recovered his health, but now an infinite number are saved by Christ through baptism.” (Ode 4, Matins)

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Third Sunday of Pascha – The Myrrh-Bearers

This Sunday presents us with the proclamation of the resurrection according to St. Mark.

We are first confronted with the death of our Lord. Joseph of Arimathea goes to Pilate to reclaim the body. Pilate wonders that he died so quickly, while Joseph entombs his body with great care and love. As Christians we must confront the reality that Jesus died as a sign of his love. His glory was the Cross, making the Christian faith unique –love is found in sacrifice, life is found in death, power is found in service. And St. Paul’s words are read on Good Friday: “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the learning of the learned I will set aside’ (1 Corinthians 1:18-19). Believing in the Resurrection, we are confronted with the Christian paradox that the world cannot understand.

The women go to the tomb on the third day, but Jesus is not there. The young man announces to them: “Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Behold, the place where they laid him” (Mark 16:6). The women are told to announce the resurrection, but they fail to do so, “They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mark 16:8). This too is a challenge to our faith. Where do we seek the Christ? Can we today complete the mission the women were entrusted with, can we proclaim the resurrection? Do we understand the gospel and commit ourselves to the Lord, “who trampled upon death by death.”

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Thomas Week Thursday

“Who stopped the hand of the disciple from being melted when he approached the fiery side of the Savior? Who gave him such boldness, to be able to touch this blazing door?” – Ikos of Thomas Sunday.

When God appeared to Moses, he first spoke to him from the burning bush. “There the angel of the Lord appeared to him as fire flaming out of a bush. When he looked, although the bush was on fire, it was not being consumed. So Moses decided, “I must turn aside to look at this remarkable sight. Why does the bush not burn up?” (Exodus 3:2-3). Later God was to tell Moses on Mount Sinai, “But you cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). Indeed, the Epistle to the Hebrews declares, “our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29).

The image of the burning bush of Moses was later to be applied to Mary, the Birthgiver of God. She was able to bear the Son and Word of God in her womb. The burning bush reveals to us that the love of God is so intense that it would destroy us, fragile and mortal as we are. Yet in becoming a man, the Word of God became a transforming fire, uniting the human nature to God, thereby deifying us, protecting us by grace that we are able to touch God himself present in a human body. This is the meaning of the revelation to Thomas, as God says, “Touch me now, for now you are deified and can touch God. Then Jesus tells Thomas, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (John 20:29). We are those who have not seen what Thomas saw, but are able now to see the eucharist, and to touch and partake of the body of Christ, our connection with God. Therefore, in some Eastern Churches the bread of Holy Communion is the coal that touched the lips of Isaiah, “Then one of the seraphim flew to me, holding an ember which he had taken with tongs from the altar. He touched my mouth with it. “See,” he said, “now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged” (Isaiah 6:6-7). Like Thomas, we too can touch God by grace.

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Day of Rejoicing

On the first free day after Bright Week [i.e., today], the Church traditionally remembers all those who have fallen asleep. Because of the hope of the resurrection, this is called the “Day of Rejoicing,” in Slav “radonitsa.”
On this day, the Tuesday of St. Thomas week, according to the order instituted by our Holy Fathers, we call to remembrance, in Paschal joy, all those who have died from the beginning of the ages in faith and in the hope of resurrection and life eternal.
 Having previously celebrated the radiant feast of Christ’s glorious Resurrection, the faithful commemorate the dead today with the pious intent to share the great joy of this Pascha feast with those who have departed this life in the hope of their own resurrection. This is the same blessed joy with which the dead heard our Lord announce His victory over death when He descended into Hades, thus leading forth by the hand the righteous souls of the Old Covenant into Paradise. This is the same unhoped-for joy the Holy Myrrhbearing Women experienced when discovering the empty tomb and the undisturbed grave clothes. In addition, this is the same bright joy the Holy Apostles encountered in the Upper Room where Christ appeared though the doors were closed.
In short, this feast is a kindred joy, to celebrate the luminous Resurrection with our Orthodox forefathers who have fallen asleep.
 There is evidence of the commemoration of the dead today in the writings of the Church Fathers. St. John Chrysostom mentions the commemoration of the dead performed on Tuesday of St. Thomas week in his “Homily on the Cemetery and the Cross.”
 Today, the faithful departed are remembered in Divine Liturgies, ‘koliva’ is prepared and blessed in the churches in memory of those who have fallen asleep, and the Orthodox graves in cemeteries are blessed by the priests and visited by the faithful. On this day alms are given to the poor. Furthermore, it should be noted that due to the great spiritual joy this jubilant commemoration bears, it is called in the Slavonic tongue, ‘Radonitsa,’ or “Day of Rejoicing.” 

An excerpt from the Homily of St. John Chrysostom: “On the Cemetery and the Cross”
 “By His death, Christ bound the chief of robbers and the prison guard, that is, the devil and death, and transferred their treasures, that is, the entire human race, to the royal treasury. The King Himself came to the prisoners and broke the doors, crushed the bars, vanquished Hades, and stripped the prison.”
Meditation by Archpriest David Petras

Saint Thomas Sunday: Antipascha

Saint Thomas Sunday: Antipascha

Every day during the week of Easter, called Bright Week by the Church, the paschal services are celebrated in all their splendor. The Easter baptismal procession is repeated daily. The royal gates of the sanctuary remain open. The joy of the Resurrection and the gift of the Kingdom of eternal life continue to abound. Then, at the end of the week, on Saturday evening, the second Sunday after Easter is celebrated in remembrance of the appearance of Christ to the Apostle Thomas “after eight days” (John 20.26).

It is important to note that the number eight has symbolical significance in both Jewish and Christian spiritual tradition. It signifies more than completion and fullness; it signifies the Kingdom of God and the life of the world to come since seven is the number of earthly time. The sabbath, the seventh day, is the blessed day of rest in this world, the final day of the week. The “first day of the week,” the day “after Sabbath”; stressed in all of the gospels as the day of Christ’s Resurrection (Mk 16.1, Mt 28.1, Lk 24.1, Jn 20.1,19), is therefore also “the eighth day,” the day beyond the confines of this world, the day which stands for the life of the world to come, the day of the eternal rest of the Kingdom of God (see Hebrews 4).

The Sunday after Easter, called the Second Sunday, is thus the eighth day of the paschal celebration, the last day of Bright Week. It is therefore called the Antipascha, and it was only on this day in the early church that the newly-baptized Christians removed their robes and entered once again into the life of this world.

In the Church services the stress is on the Apostle Thomas’ vision of Christ and the significance of the day comes to us in the words of the gospel:

Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see My hands; and put out your hand, and place it in My side; do not be faithless, but believing.” Thomas answered Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (John 20.27–29).

We have not seen Christ with our physical eyes nor touched His risen body with our physical hands, yet in the Holy Spirit we have seen and touched and tasted the Word of Life (1 John 1.1–4), and so we believe.

Bright Saturday

Today is the seventh day of Bright Week, the joyful celebration of the Resurrection of Christ. In today’s Apostolic Reading, St. Peter again proclaims, “The author of life you put to death, but God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses” (Acts 3:15). The gospel returns to the theme of baptism, for our life in Christ through the mystery of baptism is the beginning of our share in Christ’s eternal resurrection.

The gospel today begins, “After this, Jesus and his disciples went into the region of Judea, where he spent some time with them baptizing” (John 3:22). This is the only passage in the gospels that tells of Jesus baptizing, and he raised a theological problem: if Jesus baptized, would this be already the saving baptism in water and the Spirit. St. John, therefore, corrects himself in the next section of his gospel, “Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself was not baptizing, just his disciples), he left Judea and returned to Galilee” (John 4:1-3).

The icon posted here, from the Novgorod School, nonetheless depicts Jesus baptizing, a baptism that is life-giving. Whatever the meaning of John 3:22, as a people reborn in the Holy Trinity in the font of baptism, the life-giving baptism of water and the Spirit, today we seal the feast in the joy of our baptism, in which we died with Christ, so that we could rise with him in his resurrection” (Romans 6:3-4).

Meditation by Archpriest David Petras