BY HIS EMINENCE ARCHBISHOP TIKHON
FIRST HIERARCH OF THE RUSSIAN TRUE ORTHODOX CHURCH
And He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath days. And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and was utterly unable to lift herself up. And having seen her, Jesus called to her and said to her, “Woman, thou hast been loosed from thine infirmity.” And He laid His hands upon her, and immediately she was set straight again, and was glorifying God. But the ruler of the synagogue, being indignant because Jesus cured on the sabbath, answered and was saying to the crowd, “There are six days in which is it fitting to work; within these therefore come and be cured, but not on the day of the sabbath.” The Lord then answered him and said, “Hypocrite, doth not each of you on the sabbath loose his ox or ass from the manger, and lead it away and give it drink? And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan bound, lo, eighteen years, to be loosed from this bond on the day of the sabbath?” And when He said these things, all those who opposed Him were put to shame; but the whole crowd was rejoicing over all the glorious things which were being done by Him. (St Luke 13:10-17)
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Today in the Gospel we heard how on the Sabbath day the Lord entered the synagogue and began to teach. Among the listeners was one unhappy woman, who had been hunched over for 18 years. When the Lord Jesus Christ saw her, He said to her, “thou hast been loosed from thine infirmity.” He laid His hands upon her, and she was set aright.
It was the Sabbath, and in response to the rebuke of the teacher of the faithful, the ruler of the synagogue, indignant to the core, Christ responded “And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan bound, lo, eighteen years, to be loosed from this bond on the day of the sabbath?”
These words of Christ involuntarily raise the question: if there were no touch of Satan, would there be no sickness [either]? And why did the Lord allow this touch if He points to the need to set her free from the bonds of Satan?
Church tradition provides an answer to this question: Some diseases come to correct a person after he has committed sins. Christ speaks about this in the Gospel of St John after the healing of the paralytic: “No longer go on sinning, lest a worse thing should befall thee” (St. John 5:14). In other cases, the cause of the disease is stated: “in order that the works of God should be made manifest in him” (St. John 9:3). However, this is more likely the purpose of the disease and not the cause, and it must be said that all diseases are allowed with this common purpose: that the works of God be made manifest – the rebirth and salvation of our souls.
From the words of today’s Gospel “whom Satan bound,” we see that Satan has some kind of power over people, but it is not useful for us to try to resolve the question of why he has it. It is more useful and instructive for us to think how the Savior and the Holy Fathers treat such calamities, and here we see that this attitude varies according to the state of the heart or the moral disposition of the sick. Sometimes the Savior heals with a word, sometimes He orders something to be done, sometimes He limits Himself to giving advice. He heals some immediately and without their direct request, asks others about faith, and does not immediately respond to the requests of others. [His] different attitudes are determined by the different moods of the sufferers. In all cases, the Savior pursues the good goal of saving them, and in relation to the sick, both ourselves and others, it is also more useful for us to think not about the cause of the illness, but about what the Lord wants from the sick person, “in order that the works of God should be made manifest in him” – the works of regeneration and salvation of the soul of the sick person.
It is difficult to heal from passions that expose a person to the influence of demons, up to mania and demonic possession. These are the passions of self-love and pride that each of us have, and in one way or another possess us. A demoniac is only slightly different from those possessed by the destructive passions of self-love and pride. Talk to such a person about a vice that affects him, for example, pride, and now he is already angry. If we detect that reproof leads us to irritation, we should be afraid of the demon.
Let each one ask himself and sincerely answer – what state does a rebuking put you in? But one should not be embarrassed and discouraged by the sad answer to this question. Struggle for humility, freedom from anger, and patience, and know that you are not alone in this struggle: Your guardian angel always wages a fight with Satan and, at your request, will powerfully help you. It is difficult to heal from passions and demonic possession: [It] “convulsed him much” (St. Mark 9:26); that is, strongly shaking a person, the exiled devil leaves him. But we must not be afraid, and we must fight, for unhappy are the people who do not care about their souls. Three-quarters of educated people are self-loving and do not struggle with this disease, and yet their irritation at being denounced says that they are not far from being enslaved by a demon. Let us remember that, as defined by the Holy Fathers, self-love is the nurse and parent of innumerable passions, including hypocrisy and envy, which we will talk about below.
Returning to today’s gospel, let us turn our attention to how the head of the synagogue, the elder, was indignant at Christ, indignant at the fact that Jesus healed on the Sabbath, saying to the people: “There are six days in which is it fitting to work; within these therefore come and be cured, but not on the day of the sabbath,” showing by this that outward observance of the rules is dearer to him than anything else in the world, and therefore he is even ready to limit God Himself in His mercy. How did it happen that this teacher of the law, and in essence, all the teachers of the law, scribes, and Pharisees, the high priests of Israel, stumbled over what they taught? Before us, firstly, is the manifestation of terrible unmercifulness, indifference, and coldness towards the suffering of another person. And secondly, we see obvious hypocrisy.
Outwardly, indeed, everything looks decent – he acts as a zealot of the law, but, in fact, this jealousy was a cover for his hidden anger and envy. He was annoyed that Christ had attracted people’s attention by His miracle. It is impossible to slander Jesus Christ, to deny an obvious miracle, to turn with reproach to the Lord – he is afraid, and therefore, as a crafty person, as a hypocritical executor of the law, he directs his indignation to the people. The chief of the synagogue, and many people like him that we meet in the Gospel are those for whom a certain religious system, a set of rules, is more valuable than a human being. It is more important for them to observe the prescriptions of the law to the smallest detail than to offer their hand to a sufferer. And we can observe this disease of legalism in humanity throughout its history in various and sometimes very terrible manifestations. The system of something external, whether it is a human community, organization, or state, turns out to be more valuable than a person when a person becomes a cog [in the machine].
Unfortunately, such a psychological trait – excessive adherence to external prescriptions – is also characteristic of many Orthodox Christians, for whom, for example, the external observance of the fast is more important than the fruit that the fast should produce. Very often in confession, one hears a person confess at length and in detail about some trifle – indeed, he strains out a mosquito and does not notice at the same time that he does not repent of the most important thing, i.e. that he swallows a camel. He inadvertently “stained” himself with sunflower oil on Wednesday or Friday – although the rest of his life is not even close to what [sins] he confesses.
“Hypocrite,” Christ replies to this elder, “doth not each of you on the sabbath loose his ox or ass from the manger, and lead it away and give it drink? And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan bound, lo, eighteen years, to be loosed from this bond on the day of the sabbath?” – this is already a denunciation of the head of the synagogue for heartlessness, envy, and hypocrisy.
This hypocrite was not indignant out of love for keeping the Sabbath, not out of zeal for the glory of God; with imaginary and ostentatious jealousy, he covered up his hatred for Jesus Christ; for him, this miracle performed by the Savior became an occasion to accuse Jesus Christ before the people of breaking the law, even though the law of God speaks of the good of the neighbor, and the head of the synagogue should have rejoiced at the miracle of the healing of the unfortunate woman. Here, obvious hypocrisy is already manifesting itself.
The sin of hypocrisy is one of the most disgusting sins, it is terrible in that it takes root in a person gradually and firmly, it firmly seizes power over the soul of a person and, most importantly, quickly becomes an inconspicuous constant companion of all thoughts and feelings, all relationships to people and life events, so that even the sinner himself does not notice his insincerity and his hypocritical assessment of everything around him.
The Savior compares this sin with leaven in dough, for it is difficult to identify leaven in baked bread, however, it is present in it. “Be on your guard against the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (St. Luke 12:1), the Savior says to His disciples.
Most people get so used to hypocrisy that they stop seeing their true self, which is often proud, self-loving, and lustful. And only at the moment of death, when this mask falls, a person begins to see himself as he really is. This is the main insidiousness of this sin, which does not allow a person to repent of it in time – this is its inconspicuousness.
Hypocrisy can envelop the entire life of a person, but most dangerous and terrible is when it invades the religious sphere, directly into the life of the Church, when, under the pretext of strict observance of the canons, rules, and statutes, personal, power-seeking, selfish goals are pursued with the active participation of one’s own pride. This has always served as the basis of church turmoil, schisms, and divisions, when the spiritual needs of Orthodox people are trampled on for the sake of these personal goals, the life of church communities and parishes is upset, which sometimes causes irreparable damage to the Church as the Body of Christ. Of course, a terrible answer will have to be given in the face of the Righteous Judge to those hypocrites who commit this kind of evil.
Only hypocrites can allow themselves to completely ignore the canonical norms, while at the same time applying them to others, very exactingly demanding their fulfillment. In the True Orthodox Church, it is absolutely impossible to apply double standards, two truths – one for oneself, and the other for neighbors and everyone else. Evil is always evil, and you need to be much stricter and more demanding of yourself, of your actions, of your behavior than to the actions of other people, and if anyone does otherwise – he is a hypocrite.
The head of the synagogue, in addition to hypocrisy, was seized by another serious illness of the soul – envy. Envy is a very hard feeling; it is annoyance at the sight of your neighbor’s prosperity and success. The one experiencing envy cannot get rid of it, day or night; it gnaws at him, and he has no rest. Envy produces much evil in the world. Through the envy of the devil, death entered human nature; through envy, the first murder was committed by Cain; through envy, the brothers sold Joseph; out of envy, Saul pursued David; and finally, out of envy, the Pharisees persecuted and slandered the Lord, betrayed Him to Pilate and killed Him. Envy is a grave sin, according to the word of God, it is equated with murder. It leads to hatred; it destroys all the fruits of virtue. Envy is indicative of a cold, proud heart, it is incompatible with love and expels love from the heart when it enters it.
In the Kingdom of Heaven, there is no place for envy; love reigns there. That’s what we need to remember, that’s what we need to prepare ourselves for – to try to acquire this evangelical love while we walk in the light, that is, while we are alive. Let us be careful not to fall into the dangerous sin of hypocrisy and envy, which the Lord so threateningly denounces in the Holy Gospel.
And let us remember one more important lesson that today’s Gospel reading gives us – holy and feast days are sanctified by works of mercy, an example of this was given to us by our Savior Himself, having healed the unfortunate woman on a Sabbath day. Indeed, it is only through mercy and compassion, through love for one’s neighbor – which is true piety – that we enter eternal life.