Homily 254 – Second Sunday of Great Lent (St. Gregory Palamas)
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
March 12, 2017
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
Throughout time, people have marveled at the miracles demonstrated by our Lord. At the crucifixion, even King Herod hoped to see a miracle.
In our own day, people flock to see and venerate icons that stream myrrh, to visit holy elders who are reputed to foretell the future, to pray before miracle working icons and bathe in healing waters.
The focus on these occurrences are perhaps natural. Meaning, part of our fallen existence, and imperfect. They serve to meet our will, our desire, and our demands.
And these happenings were not the focus of Our Lord.
He did these things, from his mercy for our fallen existence. But the primary reason he did these miracles were to demonstrate his authority.
The authority to forgive. The authority to reconcile.
That was – and remains – the purpose of Christ’s incarnation, his death, his resurrection.
Miracles are, to a degree, an afterthought. Christ could heal everyone of everything all at once if he desired. And he does desire.
The way Christ heals, though, is normally not the way we would like it to be. We look to the physical, and ask for healing.
Christ heals the heart – the nous, the essence of who we are. He forgives us. Forgives our departure from perfection. Our deviation from the way we were created, through the action of our own will.
He tells us explicitly that the forgiveness of sins is the most important thing. Even without physical healing.
When we experience the forgiveness of sins, we begin the reconciliation to God that humanity lost in the rebellion in paradise.
And we begin to realize that the physical limitations we may have are given us for our benefit. For our good. They are, in a very real way, blessings.
They don’t feel like blessings, perhaps. But they are.
They serve a holy purpose – we can use them to give up our own will and our own desire, and trust God completely.
It is a very real martyrdom. Just like the 40 martyrs of Sebaste that we commemorated last Wednesday and Thursday.
In the hymnography for the martyrs, we hear:
The holy martyrs bravely endured their present suffering;
they rejoiced in things hoped for but not yet seen.
They said to each other:
“By stripping off our garments we have put off the old man.
The winter is cold and bitter, but Paradise will be warm and sweet.
The freezing is painful, but the reward will bring us joy.
Let us not be defeated, O brothers!
We suffer a little, but Christ will crown us with the laurel of victory.
He is our God and the Savior of our souls.”
The holy Martyrs threw their clothes aside;
fearlessly they entered the lake and encouraged one another:
“Remember that our fallen nature has been deprived of Paradise!
Let us care nothing for our corruptible flesh today!
The serpent once deceived us, handing over our bodies to death;
now let us win Resurrection for all!
Let us scorn the ice and cold; let us hate our flesh,
and Christ will crown us with the laurel of victory!
He is our God and the Savior of our souls.”
The holy Martyrs accepted their torments with joy.
They hurried to the frozen lake as to a comforting bath.
They said: “We will not fear the bitter cold.
Only let us escape Gehenna’s flames!
Let a foot be burned, that it may rejoice eternally!
Let a hand be lost, offered to the Lord in sacrifice!
Let us not refuse death in the flesh!
Embrace death, and Christ will crown us with the laurel of victory!//
He is our God, and the Savior of our souls.”
Our flesh, our physical existence, is fleeting, subject to corruption. Even if we are healed in body, we are still awaiting the final healing in resurrection. Without which we are only partially healed.
We look to Christ to clothe us with light as a garment. That our bodies may return to paradise, where the uncreated light of God envelops everything and everyone.
The body – maimed, broken, fallen. But forgiven. And restored.
That is our healing. The lame and diseased who were healed later died. The blind who were given sight all died. The people who were possessed – died. This paralytic, healed by Christ, died.
Lazarus was raised from the dead – only to die again.
Because that death – the human death we all will experience – doesn’t have to be the end. It can be a new beginning.
A birth, to life again in Paradise. To life again in God.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!