Fr Deacon Gregory’s homily on the Blind Man

Fr Deacon Gregory gave a homily on June 6, 2021, on the Sunday of the Blind Man (cf. John 9: 1-38).
You can listen to the recording here.

Here are his notes:

The Path of Faith

In the Name….

Christ is Risen!

This mornings Gospel speaks about the Lord’s healing of the man born blind from birth.

The common theme over the past three weeks has been a “Divine appointment” with our Lord

          First there was the paralytic man at the pool.  Though there were many sick waiting for the waters to stir and be healed, Jesus chose to minister to just the one man.

          Last week Jesus came to Jacob’s well at the time the Samaritan woman came to draw water.  It was an off time of day to draw water, but Jesus knew she would be there and He  spoke the words she needed to hear for her heart to turn toward salvation.

          Today as Jesus leaves the Temple, He encounters a blind man and ministers to Him.

Jesus meets each of these people at the time when there heart was prepared to hear His message, and be drawn to Him.  Each of these encounters gives us insight in how the Risen Lord meets with His people today. 

Jesus coming to the paralytic illustrates how He draws near to those suffering physical pain and disabilities.

He meets with the Samaritan woman when she is suffering from guilt and the consequences of bad choices.  Her heart is breaking and the Lord gives her hope and salvation. 

The blind man represents many of us, who’s eyes are opened to the truth of who Jesus is, and when we respond to His truth and obey His commands we live a life of faith.

Today’s Gospel begins with the words” “ As He passed by He saw a man blind from birth.”  This very innocent statement gives the impression that Jesus was strolling down the street when He met the blind man.  In fact Jesus had just left a life threatening confrontation at the Temple.

The 8th chapter of John records Jesus’ conversation with the Pharisees and people  at the Temple.  Here Jesus speaks of His relationship with the Father and His mission to deliver us form sin.  He preached the truth about Himself, but the people were blind and would not accept His message. 

Here He gives the clearest statement of His divinity.  The people understood His claim and were preparing to stone Him.  The text says Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple. 

It was not that Jesus was fearful and found a corner of the temple to hide from the people, but more Luke 4:30, when once more the people would not accept His message and wanted to throw Him off a cliff in Nazareth, He passed through the midst of them and no one touched Him.  The same happens here. 

So Jesus wasn’t running in fear, He left the temple grounds.   As He left His attention was drawn to a man born blind form birth. 

His disciples saw His interest in the man and asked who’s sin caused his blindness, his own or his parents.  Jesus replies neither the man or the parents sinned, but that the works of God might be glorified.  Blindness is a result of the fall, but this man’s blindness was going to show God’s glory.

Jesus again harkens back to chapter 8 and says; We must do the works of the Father.   He includes His followers, and by implication, the Church, in His ministry.  After explaining this, He spits on the ground, makes clay and applies it the man’s eyes and tells him to go wash in the pool of Siloam.

This passage is interesting because throughout the conversation with His disciples, Jesus never talks to the blind man, nor does the blind man say a word to Jesus. 

Jesus spoke to the paralytic when healing Him.  His conversation with the Samaritan woman is the longest recorded conversation in the Gospel’s, but with the blind man Jesus says just one sentence.   The man obeys  and  is given both physical and spiritual sight.

I see the blind man as an illustration of the life of faith.

The blind man was a passive recipient of God’s grace.  We too are recipients of God’s grace.  In some ways it is like Jesus is having a conversation about each one of us.  Then He reaches down to touch us and tells to go wash in the pool of Siloam and our eyes are opened to faith.  We see Him in a different way. 

For some of us our washing was our baptism.  For others, who were baptized at birth Jesus touches our life in some way and we respond in faith and follow Him in obedience. 

The blind man obeyed Jesus’ command to go and wash in the pool of Siloam.  It seems like a simple command, but in fact the pool was quite far from the temple.  It would not be easy for the blind man to travel that distance without sight, but he obeyed and was given his sight.

In the same way when Jesus touches our life and asks us to do difficult tasks, we need to be obedient.  Some of His commands will be hard, it may be giving up a habit, or reconciling with some one with whom we’ve had a falling out.  The Lord will direct us in what we need to do.

 When we are obedient to His commands a blessing will come, we will see Jesus more clearly and  draw nearer to Him.

When the blind man returned from the pool people saw that he was different.  They weren’t sure what to make of him.  Some weren’t even sure it was the same man.  He kept insisting, “No. it is me really!”

This is another principle of the life of faith.  As we draw closer to Christ there should be a noticeable change in our life.  A true encounter with Christ will change us.  Our words, our actions and our attitudes should all change and be conformed to the commands of the Gospels’.

Jesus healed the paralytic, and later found him in the temple, presumably thanking God for the gift of physical health.

Jesus healed the heart of the Samaritan woman, and she who was an outcast drew others to Jesus, so they could hear His healing words.

The blind man received both physical and spiritual sight.

An encounter with Christ will begin to change us into His likeness.

When the neighbors saw the man who was blind but could now see they asked Him what had happened.  He gives the simple answer of what Jesus did to Him. 

Again we can take a lesson from his brief answer.  When people see you are different.  You speak different, you act different, you do not join in some conversations and activities and they ask why.  Follow the words of Peter; always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” (1Pet. 3:15)

When people question us about our life and faith, we should always be ready to point to Christ as the One who motivates our life, our speech and our actions.

Like the blind man not all will accept our devotion to Christ.  He was first brought before the Pharisees.  Who asked him how he received his sight.  Jesus performed this miracle on a Sabbath day.  Many of the Pharisees, saw Jesus as a law breaker, others realized that a sinner could not perform such a miracle. 

In the end they did not believe the man was even born blind, and called his parents.  They confirmed that he was indeed born blind, but did not know how he regained his sight.  They did not seem to rejoice in the miracle, but instead were intimidated by the Pharisees and distanced themselves from their son. 

The text says that those who confessed Jesus would be put out of the synagogue.  The synagogue was the center of Jewish life.  To be put out meant one  would be to lose all social standing and connections.  It would be very difficult to live in the community.  His parents feared being put out of the synagogue.

Just as in the time of Jesus’ earthly life, it is unfortunate that in our day taking a stand for Jesus can often cause division.  There will be some sympathetic ears, but in our day people often scoff at our faith or treat it with indifference.  Some people who are close to us may not stand by us when we talk of our faith in Christ.  If they do not have faith themselves, they do not want to be identified with a faith that is often becoming a target of ridicule.  They do not want to be ostracized.

The blind man teaches us how to handle ridicule.  In his final confrontation with the Pharisees, they continue to pressure him to deny Jesus.  The blind man continues to point to Jesus.  He questions their inability to explain how a man, who they reject as a sinner can open the eyes of a man blind from birth. 

He points out that if Jesus was not form God, He would be unable to perform such miracles.  The blind man holds to the truth of Jesus.  His persistence in affirming Jesus infuriates the Pharisees and they expel him from the synagogue. 

Hearing that the man was put out of the synagogue, Jesus finds him and reveals Himself to the man.  The man worships Jesus.  Jesus’  acceptance of the man’s worship is a further indication of His divinity.

Our faith in Jesus may cause confrontation with others.  We need to calmy point to Jesus as the One true God and Savior of mankind.   Our faith in Christ may have consequences and cause us difficulties at times. we must humbly accept the consequences and stand firm in our commitment to Christ. 

We do not know if this account happened in one day or over several days, but the blind man gives us a pattern to follow for the life of faith.  We must be obedient to the Lord’s commands, this should result in a change in our life in which we are witnesses for Christ.  We must remain steadfast in our faith and witness in the face of difficulties.  As we do these things we will become more conformed to the likeness of Christ and like the blind we too will truly worship our Lord Jesus Christ.


The Breath of Life: Human Embryology & Spirituality

A Lenten Reflection by Fr Jeremiah

I was reading yesterday morning from a publication on human embryology put out by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.  Consider an essential and fundament salient point that was written.  Here it is:  Each of us began as a single cell.  The text then goes on to highlight cell division that goes on and on and in time becomes a person.  The text does not say when it is that “the person” is produced or becomes; it just says in time.  If you ever took a course on human embryology this is likely what you were taught.  Arguments abound of course on when it is that “the person” emerges as a creation or product of this original single cell.

So, how do you feel about yourself?  How do you sense yourself?  Do you believe that the “you” that “is” “you” was made by a cell?  Do you believe the “you” that “you are” is a “product” of something, a “product” of cell division that appeared at some point in time?  Perhaps you’ve never even considered this.  Most people likely have not.  But this is the prevailing strictly scientific understanding.  Even, as a Christian, if you tack on the sense of a soul, it usually ends up being like that: it’s “tacked on” somehow to what the original cell is producing.  So we end up with our conventional scientific embryological understanding of producing a person and in some way “the soul” is in the mix but we can’t see it or locate it within that which is being produced. We end up with this very dualistic, fragmented, non-integrated understanding of ourselves as soul and body.  We don’t really know where the soul is and we can’t talk about it in scientific circles.  This is why we have difficulties with science and religion…because religion (or better spirituality) can’t intelligently interface with what science is seeing or understanding.  So we, as Christians, study science and what science teaches us and we by and large accept that, but from a conventional embryological standpoint we end up understanding ourselves in a very fractured way.  We’re trying to say there’s something about us that we refer to as “soul” but we can’t really integrate that aspect of ourselves very well with what conventional science teaches us we are:  that we are a product of cell division.

Now we can’t, or shouldn’t, just say that science is worthless and that we can’t believe scientific findings!  If something is true, it is always true and hence it has to be true for science and for religion.

Maybe there’s another way to look at all of this?

During the Divine Liturgy when the Bread and Wine are consecrated the priest currently says the following:

And make this Bread the precious Body of Thy Christ.

And that which is in this Cup the precious Blood of Thy Christ.

Changing them” by Thy Holy Spirit.

An older version of the Service Book uses the wording, “Transmuting them” by Thy Holy Spirit.

The word, transmute, means to change.  The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as to change something completely, especially into something different and better.  So here the simple, common, everyday bread and wine are changed into something different, something better.  The Bread and Wine are no longer simply bread and wine!  They are now the Mystical Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ.

Now let’s jump back to the cell for a different consideration.  Perhaps you didn’t begin as a cell!  You did receive a cell from your mother, but that fertilized cell was then no longer the same.  It was “transmuted” into something completely different.  It became now a living organism, a living whole (a zygote in scientific language).  To make it personal:  This is now You!  This is your original undifferentiated wholeness!  You now differentiate that undifferentiated wholeness but you can’t get anymore whole than what you’ve got in potential at that original point.  That is your wholeness.  In Osteopathy this is considered the Health that you have to draw upon.  When you are injured or ill you mend or heal according to what you have in this original wholeness.

Let’s now consider this new, something different than a cell, living organism, in which there are genes that are not, as one spiritual and osteopathic writer has said, “egotistical.”  In other words, contrary to what you may have thought, there is no “preformation” in our genes.  Genes are not “self-emergent.”  They do not have existing within them a preexisting miniature form of you that self-emerges.  While they are the building blocks of life, and the blueprints for expression of individual potentials for differences, they have no capacity to just turn themselves on and off.  There has to be an intelligence and there has to be a generative force, or forces, that guides this creative act of individual evolution.

From a Christian “integrative” perspective we can go back to Genesis, where we find recorded, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”  (Gen 2:7)  So it is this Breath of Life that carries a “potency” that enables a transmutation to occur where the material “form,” is actually changed into something different, something better.  Or, perhaps we could say, something more evolved.  The Book of Job also refers to this Breath of Life.  Here it is described how the cattle, the birds of the air, the creeping things of the earth, the fish, etc. all know and reveal to us that everything is of God’s making.  Verses 9 and 10 then speak of the Lord in whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind.  Job 12: 7-10

It is this intelligence of the Potency of the Breath of Life in the fluid body of the embryo* that you originally were, and in one sense remain, and genetic expression according to blueprint “possibilities” that enables each developmental emergence to occur. [* Of note:  you as an embryo are originally mostly fluid.]

In other words, you at conception were and remain matter (dust of the earth) who became a living soul through the infusion of the God-given Breath of Life at the moment of conception and you henceforth were and are involved in a process of creating yourself!  If you happen to be following the Genesis story literally, Breath of Life here must ultimately be understood not as the Original Breath of Life instilled into a single figure, Adam, but the Breath instilled into all human form of matter that enables it to come alive and develop as a living soul.  The Breath of Life then is not then subsequently just of the level of “nostril breathing” or “normal” or commonly called “physiologic respiration,” but it is to be understood as a much deeper “Breath of Life” that enlivens matter at all levels in human form, emerging from within the deepest layers and levels of individual human life, and in fact in all that we say is alive.

There has been a lot written about the Church being a hospital and in one sense it should be.  It should be a place of receiving compassionate and forgiving acts and words and a place of receiving spiritual medicine.  But one thing such a “primary” focus can imply is that we are fundamentally diseased or sinful.  We begin then with Original Disease, Original Illness, Original Fallen-ness and sinfulness rather than Original Blessing, Original Goodness.  To me it is very unfortunate that a lot of Western theological influence has crept into the Eastern Orthodox Church distorting accurate spiritual writings and liturgical wording.  It is difficult to realize and embrace our actual Original Blessing when often the liturgical wording and terrible sermons yet reinforce our inherent sinfulness.  Sometimes it seems to me that the Good News is so incredibly Good that we just can’t accept it – even as priests! – so we twist it into something that fits our own self-created distorted little-self ego-centric thinking and agendas!

When we focus on the Church, not primarily as a hospital, but as a Sacred Place for our continued evolutionary enlightenment in Christ – Holy Illumination of Soul – then we can truly enter into what the Lord Jesus proclaimed and taught; what He “pointed to.”  We can then truly enter into Life, into Heaven now.  We can be surrounded by a Light and breathe forth the Fragrance of a Holy Life that yields true Peace upon the Earth and not just truces or unending spiritual exercises trying to climb the ladder of holiness and never seeming to feel that we’ve gotten anyplace.

You are alive.  The Breath of Life has been breathed into the very depths and all layers of that which makes you a person, into the depths of every cell.  You were not conceived in sin*.  No matter what the conditions of your conception were, you were conceived in Love because nothing – absolutely nothing – can exist or be outside of Love.  Yes, you and I may make mistakes in judgment, but you and I are fundamentally good, and our mistakes and sins yet occur within this Sea of Divine Embrace.  It even seems to me it’s scientific!  Can you believe it?  Can you believe this Good News?  Or, do you prefer to live in the patterns and belief systems that focus on sin and remain blind to the Radiant Light of Love?

I am likely going to sound like a very “un-Orthodox” Orthodox priest but Lent should not be a time of simply “focusing” on how much you’ve messed up and how horrible you erroneously think you are, or becoming frustrated that you can’t complete the spiritual disciplines you’ve anticipated to “make you” a better person.  Try instead to equally, if not more so, incorporate practices that help you realize – not in an ego-centric manner but rather a humble manner – that you are a Beloved in Christ; that you have an “original goodness;” that you live and exist in a Sea of Divine Love (in spite of what you may see or hear on the news or even sometimes hear in sermons, or isolated portions of Holy Scripture or Church Service’s wording); that the Breath of Life has been breathed into you and into all that lives; and that you have a place and purpose in this One Life we all share in.

If you start from a place of human Fallen-ness the Lord Jesus comes to be seen as just a repairman or one satisfying a vengeful spiteful Father God.  If you start from a place of Original Blessing – which it seems to me is scientific, religious, and spiritual – the Lord Jesus becomes a Teacher of Divine Things, a Revealer of Divine Mercy and Love, a Guide, and one who reveals a pattern in the evolutionary unfoldment of human life where everything will ultimately – with our involvement as co-creators- be made new in Him.  Our primary focus changes from “conquering” sin to Holy Illumination.   When we can see and have our hearts centered from within such a Holy Gaze the desire to do any harm is simply not there.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” 

*: Someone asked me to clarify what I meant by “you were not born in sin.”
For any for whom this may have been confusing or unclear, what this refers to is the Western theological understanding that the “guilt” of Adam resulting from the “original sin” is transmitted to all the human race in the act of human procreation. Everyone therefore is conceived “in sin” and sex has a “dirty” connotation associated with it.
This whole theological perspective, as I mentioned, has unfortunately crept into Orthodoxy and when it is accepted as true the conception of a human being is seen as someone (the embryo) being conceived (born) in sin.

Check here other Lenten ressources

Read more reflections by Fr Jeremiah