BY HIS EMINENCE ARCHBISHOP TIKHON
FIRST HIERARCH OF THE RUSSIAN TRUE ORTHODOX CHURCH
10/23 May, 2021
After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years. When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk. And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath. The Jews, therefore, said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed. He answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk. Then asked they him, What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed, and walk? And he that was healed wist not who it was: for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in that place. Afterward, Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee. The man departed and told the Jews that it was Jesus, which had made him whole.
(St. John 5:1-15)
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
The fourth Sunday after Pascha initiates, in Orthodox tradition, the Week of the Paralytic. The Holy Orthodox Church dedicates this week to the glorification of one of the greatest miracles of Christ the Savior, namely, the healing of the paralytic at the Sheep’s Pool in Jerusalem. This miracle took place under very significant circumstances and constituted one of the decisive moments in the ministry and earthly life of Christ the Savior, since it was for the first time that the hidden anger of the representatives of obsolete Judaism was revealed in all its power toward the Divine Herald of the New Testament.
On this day at the Liturgy, the Gospel account of how the Lord came to Jerusalem on the eve of Pentecost is read. “Now there is in Jerusalem by the gate a sheep pool, which is surnamed in Hebrew, Bethesda (i.e. “house of mercy”), having five porches. In these was lying a great multitude of the infirm, blind, lame, withered, awaiting the moving of the water. For an angel used to come down from time to time into the pool and trouble the water; then after the troubling of the water, the one who first entered became well of whatsoever disease he was held by.”
The multitude of the sick lying around the pool, waiting for the water to move and hoping for healing, was an image of a sin-stricken, fallen humanity waiting for the coming of the Messiah and salvation. Today’s Gospel about the physically enervated allegorically tells about our illness – spiritual enervation. Obviously, many of us are sometimes very acutely aware of the state of inner coldness to prayer, to going to church, i.e. the absence of spiritual burning, which we felt at the beginning of our conscious conversion to Christ, to the Church. To one degree or another, each of us shows spiritual enervation.
The enervated or paralyzed person, about whom the Gospel narrates, was at this font for 38 years. “Jesus saw this one lying there, and knew that he had already been much time in that condition, and He said to him, “Dost thou wish to become well?” The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man in order that whenever the water is troubled he may put me into the pool; but while I am coming, another goeth down before me.” Jesus saith to him, “Rise, take up thy bed and be walking.” And straightway the man became well, and took up his bed, and went on walking.”
Sometime after the healing of the paralytic, as the Gospel says, the Lord met him in the temple “and said to him, “Behold, thou hast become well; no longer go on sinning, lest a worse thing should befall thee.””These words of the Savior show us the connection between sin and sickness. Of course, it is not always possible to relate a particular disease to a particular sin, but disease, in general, came into the world with the Fall, and as a rule, every disease has its root in sin. So we can say with certainty that it is only by the grace of God that this or that sickness does not befall us for our every transgression, and therefore we should, first of all, see our own sins, and not look for the guilty party in our sorrows. In fact, our sicknesses and sorrows are the mercy of God. They are given to people because the quitrent of sin – is death. If we follow the truth and justice of God – where there is sin, there must be death. Instead, the Lord gives us cleansing sorrow, that is, healing from eternal death, in order to give us eternal life. That is why we must remember the words of the holy fathers that in the future life a person will regret that he had few sorrows.
So, the first lesson of this reading is that a constant struggle with sin is necessary. The struggle with sin under the leadership of the Word of God and the Church is necessary for us, for the victory over our own sinfulness means at the same time our victory over eternal death. Before the redemption, all men were possessed by sin, doing the will of sin even against their own will. After the redemption of the human race by our Savior Jesus Christ, those who believe in Him and have been renewed by holy baptism are no longer forced by sin, but have freedom: either to resist sin or to follow the suggestions of sin.
Unfortunately, we underestimate the mortal danger of sin. Sin – it kills everything spiritual in a person, and most importantly – the soul. Sin does not allow us to exist normally in our life. As long as sinful impulses are active in our souls, we will not be able to objectively perceive events that are taking place, nor correctly understand people, nor correctly build mutual relations in the world around us. The distortions will continue until, through self-forced, intense spiritual struggle we are cleansed of our main vices and passions, through unceasing repentance with the help of the grace of God. The Son of God, Jesus Christ, came to our earthly world to give us a remedy for all sin. This almighty remedy, which cures every sin in human nature, is repentance. Therefore, the main concern of the awakened person is to kill the sin in himself. And only the Lord Jesus Christ can do this. He does this through our faith in Him, through our love for Him, through our repentance to Him, through our prayer to Him.
It does happen that sometimes, a person does not feel the need to repent to cleanse himself, simply because he does not see a sin as a sin – especially his own sins – nor sense a need for repentance. He does not see his sins because he works for sin. For he who delights in sin, and who lends the compassion of his heart to sin, and delights in the thoughts of sin cannot see his sin. Unfortunately, many of the Orthodox, church-going people, are in this state. When a man begins being at enmity with sin, rejecting it with his mind and heart, then God will grant him a great gift – the sight of his sin. It is very important for all of us to maintain a critical awareness of our spiritual state. When we lose the ability to see ourselves from the outside – the ability to be critical of ourselves – we inevitably fall into the realm of charm. This deplorable state of charm means one is demonically seduced by one’s imaginary virtues – either one’s righteousness or one’s infallibility, but in general, it is self-loving pride; the most murderous sin, which no one and nothing can shake.
This state can also be called a type of spiritual death. It is almost impossible to help a person who is entangled in the net of pride and cannot see it. He does not and cannot have any authority but himself. The only hope left is in God, who alone can sober the unfortunate. As a rule, this sobering up takes place through great sorrows. If this does not happen, then the person becomes a source of suffering for himself and for those around him, and he does not see or feel it. Staying in such a state a person is not able to make the right choice in a critical situation. But God’s mercy does not abandon sinners here either: The Lord allows the proud to experience the insults, slander, malice, and hatred of others for the sake of their salvation. It is all like air necessary for the proud to assimilate humility. For the same purpose, God allows sickness and falls, which is also a necessary remedy for proud souls. If only we could learn to accept with gratitude all punishments from the hand of God in full confidence that all this is sent for the healing of our souls and, in the end, for our salvation. But let us remember that humility, patience, selflessness, and gentleness do not come by themselves; they must be nurtured with God’s help. The attainment of these virtues is attained by hard work.
The second lesson of today’s reading is the rejection of legalism, which, as a zeal for ritual, could reach the point of extreme absurdity; when forgetting the spirit of the law, one can devote oneself wholeheartedly to the service of the letter of the law, thereby hindering works of mercy.
As already noted, the day on which the Lord healed the paralytic was a sabbath day, a day of rest. “The Jews, therefore, were saying to him who had been healed, “It is a sabbath; it is not lawful for thee to take up the bed.” He answered them, “The One Who made me well, the same said to me, ‘Take up thy bed and be walking.’” Then they asked him, “Who is the Man Who said to thee, ‘Take up thy bed and be walking?’” But the one who was healed knew not Who it was, for Jesus turned aside because a crowd was in the place.” In fact, contrary to the accusations of the hypocritical and jealous Jewish teachers, the Savior did not break the law this time or ever. The sabbath rest commandment in no way applied to situations involving the rescue of a neighbor or even an animal. This is exactly what Christ pointed out to the Pharisees when he asked them: “Who is there among you, whose son or ox shall fall into a well, and he will not straightway draw him up on the sabbath day?” (St. Luke 14:5). The sabbath, which had long since changed from a day of blessed rest for all the toiling and the burdened, under the influence of the soulless and petty legalism of the scribes, had become a burdensome yoke.
Returning to today’s reading, we note that the Paralytic languished for 38 years for his sin. The punishment is considerable, but an even greater punishment is pronounced by the Lord for his return to sin. It is nothing less than the eternal torment in hell that awaits all unrepentant and incorrigible sinners.
Let us, brothers and sisters, be most afraid of sin, especially unrepentant sin. For the Lord is present in every place of His dominion, not only by His grace but also by His justice. Let us remember the words of the prophet Isaiah that only the righteous generation will be blessed and that their seed shall inherit the earth (Isaiah 60:21 LXX). And when God admonishes us, that is, in our ordinary illnesses, we place our main hope in God and ask for His mercy, especially in serious and dangerous illnesses, when there is little hope for human help. In such cases, we will use mystical means – prayers, confession, communion of the Holy Mysteries of Christ, unction, and other holy things that the Lord, in His infinite goodness, has given us in His New Testament Church for our healing and salvation.