“I have no man.” Homily on the Sunday of the Paralytic

John 5:1-15

Christ is Risen! Today we hear the Gospel that is read at the prayer for the blessing of the waters as a sign that the Lord can work that ancient miracle every day.

In the Jerusalem temple, in the Sheep’s Pool, there were porches, where lay a multitude of the sick—the blind, the lame, and the withered, waiting for the moving of the waters. 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 (Jn 5:4). Further we hear why a man who was sick with a serious illness for thirty-eight years could not receive healing. 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. But the Lord says to him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk, and the sick man is immediately healed. He rose, took up his bed, and walked away.

There is another remarkable detail that the Gospel of the Paralytic ends with. When he meets the man in the temple, Jesus says to him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee. In these words of Christ’s is the answer to the question of what is happening to the human race, with all of us, and with Russia. How much do we sin, and how much mercy the Lord shows to us after our sins! Every time after healing us He says, lest a worse thing come unto thee. But we see that it’s all getting worse and worse. Despite all the so-called “progress” of mankind, man is getting worse and worse. Illnesses are increasing, disasters are getting more terrifying… And this is not even the main thing. The worst thing is what is happening inside of man. After all, not even in the worst times has there ever been such heartlessness as we see today.

Recently a parishioner told me about a young man who fell in the train station, and he had an ulcer perforation. He lay there for a long time, but no one wanted to call an ambulance. He asked, but no one wanted to do it. This was a busy station, with thousands of people passing by, but not a single person could be found to help this “paralytic”!

Or there was another woman’s story about how a corpse was lying in the entranceway of her apartment building for several days. People passed by day after day, but no one wanted to take the time to send it to the morgue. How terrible that is, when there are many people, but, “I have no man,” as it was with the Gospel paralytic!

At the Nuremberg trials, one Nazi was asked, “How could you kill human beings, like yourself, in the gas chambers?” He answered, “I did not think that they were human beings.” There you have it. Could it really be that the devil wants precisely that we would no longer perceive each other as humans? It that why sin is being inculcated as a norm, so that man would lose the outer appearance of a man, and people would no longer recognize each other as they should?

One recalls the typical announcement on radio news: “This winter during several days of extreme cold, 400 people froze to death in Moscow, mainly indigents.” And the word “indigent” sounds as if it were not a person, but only a one of a certain species of animal. I recall this because these people, “indigents” are always reminding us of their existence. They continually stand outside the gates of our church, next to the mosaic icon of St. Nicholas. They stand there and beg alms. They are unpleasant, dirty people, with constantly bleeding wounds, always smelling of vodka, always ready to curse and swear should they find anything disagreeable.

What should we do with these people? Sometimes it seems that we should be calling the police, because they behave themselves so badly. Or, in any case, ask them to at least step further away from the icon. After all, this is a place of prayer, and children pass through it.

There never used to be such beggars, but now we see them; there is such a futility in them, as if they don’t care whether they live or die. They eat, drink, and fall asleep—and that’s all. And you can see that they understand and know that they will never arise from this situation.

What can we do? People pass by and give them a little money, as if trying not to think about what will happen later. And later, of course, they will use this money to get drunk and die on some frosty Christmas or warm Paschal day near the church, near the source of life, about which the Lord tells us today.

Truly, what should we do? What should our society, our government, our people do? What should our Church become in the face of the evil that surrounds us at every step? Not that we shouldn’t concern ourselves at all with these people, but there exists an understanding of a “sanitation zone”. In times past during outbreaks of cholera, areas would be cordoned off between provinces in order to prevent the spread of disease.

There are two dangers facing the Church today. The first danger consists in the fact that certain people under the pretext of love of neighbor propose a tightening of “sanitation zones”. But if we speak of this in the spiritual and moral sense, it reminds us of the Sabbath—the very Sabbath that the Lord is accused of violating today. The other danger consists in the fact that people want to remove all boundaries, to make it so that there would be no boundaries against the infection of sin. And all of this is done under the hypocritical pretext of love.

Of course, we have to observe the Sabbath, that is, the law. Also necessary is the existence of boundaries between good and evil, at least on the level of ordinary human perception, which is accessible to everyone. But how little this in fact is, when that very sanitation zone is present in our relationships with other people whom we want to help. We think, “This person is at fault, he is impoverished, he is sick. But I am another matter. I am healthy, wealthy, and correct in every way.” Perhaps it’s not exactly that way, but our thoughts are very close to this. By entering our lives these “indigents” ever more relentlessly remind us that we have nowhere to hide from the Gospel truth, with our philosophy of “small good works” we will never escape the Last Judgment. We will not be able to wall ourselves off by any laws—not by fasting, nor church services, nor any sort of Sabbath. Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, says the Lord, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:20).

Perhaps it is because the Second Coming of Christ is near that the Lord today is sweeping aside with such clarity and distinctness all appearance of Christianity, and wants each of us to be placed before a terrible choice: to be without Christ to the end, or to be to the end with Christ.

This choice was made by the holy martyr Grand Duchess Elizabeth, who entering into the very thickness of evil and decay—the Khitrov market[1]—had the gift and strength from the Lord not only to do works of mercy, but to reveal Christ to other people.

This choice was also made by the apostles, who at the cost of their lives remind us all today that we live in precisely the Apostolic Church. In today’s world, where Divine authority is more and more rejected and the reign of mammon is gaining more and more strength, so that a man’s worth is determined by his material wealth, the Lord sends us also to preach, so that we, like the apostles, would go forth having neither money, nor purse, but only the Cross and the Gospel.

Only the Cross in one hand, the Gospel in the other, and the fire of Paschal love in our hearts. So that each of us would be able to become that Gospel man, for whom the paralytic healed by the Lord waited each time.

There was no one to help him, but the One Who created Heaven and Earth came to him and became Man in order to help him. He vouchsafed us also to enter the baptismal font, so that each one of us would become a living person in His image. That we would be like the apostle Peter, who in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth said first to the man lame from his mother’s womb who begged alms at the gate of the temple: Silver and gold have I none; and then, looking into his soul, with the authority of Christ Himself, commanded, Rise up and walk (Acts 3:6).

He who can give silver and gold cannot yet say, “Rise up and walk.” The most terrible paralysis consists in the fact that people get used to their sickness, to death, even while the power of the Resurrection works in the world. God is against death. God has conquered death, and His victory is present in the world. And we should witness to this.

Will the Gospel be heard in this paralyzed world drunk with empty vanities, where words have lost their value, if we do not manifest the power of the Gospel? And in this world where false prophets are gaining such power that they seem poised to seduce even the righteous, don’t we need the Church to manifest many signs and wonders, as it did in the early days of Christianity? Does the world today need them any less that it did then?

Christ is Risen! In Truth he is Risen!

Archpriest Alexander Shargunov
Translation by Nun Cornelia (Rees)



[1] A square in the center of Moscow, which in the late 19th century was notorious as the habitation of all kinds of down-and-out people and escaped criminals. Grand Duchess Elizabeth built her Sts. Martha and Mary Convent not far from this square, and would visit it regularly to save indigent children, sheltering them in her orphanage.
Anthony5/7/2017 10:16 am
One of the best articles I have read here in a long time. This really resonates with me, simply because everything described above is everything I see going on all around me and it really irks me. I recall being in London coming down onto a platform at one of their subway stations. A blind man was on the platform calling out for help. There were loads of people, and they all just stood there sullenly waiting for their train. No one bothered - the worst part is that all someone had to do is push the help button on the platform and a staff member would come have come down (and yes I did help that person as any human being should have done). Whilst I would expect that kind of behaviour from the british, sad thing is that we in Cyprus are no better. At a recent service, there was a paralysed beggar sat at the gate. At the end of the service - after we finished ''praying'' I watched to see if anyone would give that person anything. You guessed it. All walked past - no one noticed, or gave a hoot. ''There was a poor man named Lazarus who sat at the gate...''. This is the dreadful state of the human race today. All of us. No matter where.
Joseph Bell5/7/2017 8:19 am
There is no choice. Do your duty. God's will for a person is one's duty. No matter how absurd you may appear to others, no matter how others ridicule you. It is the only rational thing to do. Otherwise, how can you live with yourself. You cannot, and you will be thrown into outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
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