The readings the Holy Church today presents us speak of thankfulness, ungratefulness, and the cornerstone of thankfulness, which is patience and forbearance. May the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus writes the Holy Apostle Paul in the fifteenth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, at the fifth verse. And, We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.. Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification. It is exactly this quality that is absent from today’s world—especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a belief that I have sincerely held for sometime now, that there is much good in the world and many people work towards the good—that is for Christ, whether they perceive Him or not; membership in the Church is of little regard in this respect. Do not misunderstand what I say: While the Church’s ultimate goal is to transform hearts and minds for the Heavenly Kingdom, that objective is, unfortunately, not always achieved. Many remain within the Church yet are never transformed by the grace-saving work of the Church due to a lack of regard: a disregard for Christ and the Gospels and the general precepts that the Church demands of her children. Yet, others who are outside the Church will come to sit at table with Abraham Isaac and Jacob and the sons of the kingdom will be cast out.
This casting out from the heavenly kingdom, hearing the words I knew you not, is an unfortunate reality for those Orthodox Christians who cannot take their Faith seriously—and I place myself first in the group, for we have all been guilty of holding a lukewarm faith. Yet, if in our conscious we discern we are this way, we must not fall into despair. The important matter is to be conscientious children of the Church. We become conscientious when we bear the scruples of the weak, when we are like-minded towards one another according to Jesus Christ, and when we receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God—as we heard in the Epistle at the Liturgy on this Sunday, the 7th after Pentecost. In other words, a great deal of humility and charity is needed on our part. And a great deal of obedience and cooperation. Obedience to the clergy and hierarchy, but also cooperation with our brethren for the building up of the Church and the continuation of her mission in the world which is nothing less than gathering the world into the Church.
Jesus receives us we are, infected with our sins and passions and failings and shortcomings. He condescended to become Incarnate, to enter our time and our world and our reality and to become truly one of us in all things except sin. He condescended to participate in our common fate: death. And not only did He participate in death but He annihilated death by His presence and transformed the nature of death by His Resurrection. The Apostle Paul summarizes this: This is the mystery of Faith: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. And so we—we who were vouchsafed to receive this mystery and to live by it—we who were granted so great a salvation wrought by such a Savior ought to simply do one thing to be called worthy of the gift given: Bear with one another, receive one another as Jesus received us. I am absolutely convinced that if we as a Church set aside all selfishness, all vanity, all pride and above all, all cynicism, great things could be achieved by Christ in terms of spreading the Orthodox Faith where we are, in our local context.
Of course, such a complacency or disregard is also present in countries where Orthodoxy is the traditional faith. Many assume that the Faith is such an immovable fixture that nothing needs to occur, on our behalf, to build the Body of Christ. Many take comfort in beautiful churches and monasteries, and throughout this envelopment in the wonderful iconic side of the Faith, which has solely to do with our time and our reality—i.e. our physical world. And they forget that there is a spiritual side, a spiritual dimension to the Faith and to the Sacraments that envelops another, metaphysical reality. God does not absolutely require physical buildings, churches or monasteries for Orthodoxy’s survival—these are all raised for His glory and for our edification, as proper, consecrated places for the heavenly mysteries to be lived and revealed here, in our world. The Faith survived during the Ottoman occupation in Greece and during Communism in Russia not because of buildings, but because living, breathing men and women transmitted a Faith alive and vibrant with blood and martyrdom and spirit and truth to a future generation. Our task in the present is no less. And to accomplish this task, a lot of forgiving is required, and a-lot of toleration and cooperation within the Church is required.
Whatever we accomplish here, on earth, will be according to our Faith. May it be unto you according to your Faith, said the Lord in today’s Gospel—from Matthew, the ninth chapter—to the two blind men who followed Him begging to be healed. We must cultivate a sincere Faith in Christ and in His Orthodox Church in order to be the salt of the earth, which is required for the transformation of the world. I would like to draw our attention to the words the Pharisees uttered when they were confronted with the miracle Christ performed by casting out the demons from the dumb man which we also heard of in today’s Gospel: This one casts out demons by the power of the demons! The ungrateful and prideful Pharisees had the heavenly kingdom in its power and glory revealed before their eyes in Christ Jesus our Lord, and yet they were unable to see the mystery of salvation and the outpouring of grace before their very eyes! The Pharisees were unable to see because they simply wished to remain within the darkness of their own Platonic cave, beholding shadows and images on the wall that they then proclaimed to be the ultimate truth. No sense or reasoning could be had with the religious fanatics of Christ’s time—and so, they remained in their obstinacy and reaped the fruits of their blindness and hard heartedness.
The Lord cannot reach those who remain in such an obstinate state. He simply continues to do the work which must be wrought: Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. This is the ending of the Gospel we heard. It is not a question of Jesus being indifferent: it is a question of us being unwilling to cooperate with the Lord in our salvation. The Lord gives us a hand so we may be resurrected from the Platonic cave of our soul—resurrected from the captivity of our thoughts, as we pray in the Post-Communion prayers. We continue to face the cave’s wall, and we read the shadows as the truth of the world. It is a question of blindness and obstinacy. It is cured when we, like the blind men in today’s Gospel, respond to Christ with a heartfelt, sincere Faith. We must joyfully—without bitterness or complaints—carry the cross that has fallen to our lot. Thanksgiving and glorification are important qualities of a Christian’s character. And they are qualities that many of us lack; but we must not become despondent. Christians must be men and women of hope who sincerely and conscientiously live a life of repentance. There is no other missionary tool that could possibly “work” in our context or in another context. So, May it be with us according to our Faith! Let us pray to the Lord that He gifts us with a pure, sincere, and conviction-filled Faith, which is warm and vibrant and hopeful, surrounded by heart-felt repentance and thanksgiving, and Christ-like patience and forbearance.