Christians are Pilgrims of Eternity

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In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

If you are blind, then the world for you is painted with only one color—the black color of the abyss, of the endless night in which there are no stars, no planets. And you are shackled in this blindness of yours, like a life prisoner. You will never see a rainbow, you will never understand the endless blue of the sky, the smile of a child, you will never appreciate the beauty of the mountains, the quiet dance of the ocean waves. And every day for you is like this black dawn, and the evening is a black sunset. You see nothing, and you sit by this dusty road of life and beg for alms.

Today, just a few minutes ago, we listened to the Sunday Gospel. Evangelist Luke describes very briefly and colorfully what happened at Jericho (see Luke 18:35–43). A blind beggar, weary from the midday sun, was probably dozing by the roadside. The sudden noise of the crowd stirred him up, awakened him. What is it, what happened, what’s going on? He’s asking this question because he doesn’t see anything. Then the crowd, the people around him, answer, “Jesus of Nazareth is coming”. Rumors about this new prophet, about the miracle worker, were already in the air. People had already heard about him. And, of course, the poor blind man had also heard about this amazing man.

The crowd buzzed, surrounded Christ in a tight ring, and left the blind man no chance, not a single loophole to get to Christ. In a moment, this blind man realizes that now he has only one chance in life for healing. It’s now or never. Either he will see clearly, or he will remain in this dark, joyless cage for the rest of his life. And suddenly the whole area, hot from the sun, from the sweat, resounded with a terrible, heartrending cry, which no one expected and which was shouted over the whole crowd, Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! (Lk. 18:38–39). This is probably how ships send an SOS signal when they are sinking into the depths of the sea. In that cry there was everything—despair, faith, tears and hope, crying, and hoping for a miracle. The crowd shushed him, began, as it were, to stop this blind man, forcing him to be silent. Blessed Theophylact of Bulgaria very accurately and surprisingly remarks: “Marvel at the persistence of his confession. How this blind man, in spite of the fact that many were trying to restrain him, did not keep silent, but cried out even louder, because the fervor from within moved him.”

This fervor from within this man, this cry, this desire for healing, this extraordinary faith—the Lord felt it all. Then the Evangelist reproduces the dialogue that took place between him and Christ. This dialogue was brief, but very deep and fateful for future millions of generations of Christians after this real meeting took place more than two thousand years ago. The Lord suddenly says: “Well, what do you want from Me?” What do you want me to do? And then the blind man says, Lord, let me receive my sight (Lk. 18:41). And then the Lord says these amazing words, Receive your sight, your faith has saved you (Lk. 18:42).

The mystery of healing anyone is the mystery of human faith. And look, not only the blind man who saw clearly followed Christ, praising God. The Evangelist says the whole people, seeing this miracle that a moment before, the man did not see anything, and suddenly he is singing his praise to God—all the people who were around him also gave praise to God. And as the Holy Scripture says, if the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness! (cf. Matt. 6:23). A person must first of all realize—and this is the task of each of us—that he has blindness. He must see his inner darkness, which hinders him very much. And this darkness very often disguises itself and pretends to be light. A person thinks that he has light, but inside he has only real darkness.

Every person is a parable for us. It is not abstract for anyone. This is a very important parable for us. Each of us is also a blind man by the roadside. We are sitting by this road of life. Every day we try to pray more, put more trust in God, and pray the Jesus prayer, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. And it really resembles the cry that this blind man cried out today. Every day the Lord, perhaps not audible to us, answers our prayer, Receive your sight, for your faith has saved you.

Now we are no longer a crowd on the road, not just some scattered people, each for himself, because we are already a Church. As Tertullian says, we come together to stand before God and surround Him with our common prayers. Once, in the seventies, in the Pyukhtinsky convent [located in Estonia], a priest was rebuking a demoniac. And when it was probably at its peak, the demon shouted through this woman to the priest, “Well, what do you have in church? It’s boring, it’s the same thing every day. Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy! It’s all so boring. But I have everything new and interesting every day—bright, shiny, noisy and beautiful.”

When we listen to these words, we really know and understand that the world offers a modern person this very brilliant assortment of some new passions, ideas, tempting offers, entertainment. The world is trying to fill the human heart with vanity, with idleness. As the Romanian ascetic Raphael Noica says, the pleasure that the devil offers a person is a bribe with which the passions buy our will. That is, man takes the bait of pleasure, and his will is bought and weakened. A man either rushes upward and resembles God—Be holy, for I am holy (1 Pet. 1:16), or turns into an animal. As the Holy Scripture says, he is like the beasts that perish. (Ps. 49:12). And these many temptations, enticements, and promises with which the devil tries to lure a person, to lure these people’s souls into his nets, of course, are nothing more than glass beads, for which the American Indians once sold their priceless lands. But we understand and know that a Russian person is not a native [American], and he cannot sell his main treasure, which is his faith, his Orthodoxy for some empty earthly arrangements, for some empty thing, and so on.

St. Porphyry says that Christ is the ultimate desire of a man, above which there is nothing in the world. All senses can be satiated, but God, says the venerable elder, cannot be satiated. He is everything. God is man’s ultimate desire. And of course, the demon was lying when he spoke out, which I told about, that in the temple there is only “Lord, have mercy, Lord, have mercy.” Of course, this penitential note is one of the most important, this repentance that we really feel, which we strive for. But along with repentance, and we know this, our prayer both at home and in the temple is filled with praise to God, not only, “Lord, have mercy,” but “Glory to Thee, O God,” “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to men” (Lk. 2:14). And how the old woman Gavriiliana exclaimed, “My God, I thank You day and night, with eyes open and closed, with words and without words, alive and dead.”

The believing heart always lives in the space of a miracle, in the space of this thanksgiving, in the space of penitent tears. Our simplest days—for we do not always have a feast day in our calendar—often we have everyday life, and we must color these days with colors of inspiration, depth, joy, and love. Otherwise, we too will be like this blind man in the abyss all the time. And this depth is present in everyday life, every day. It just needs to be found, because without faith, life is just a black hole in which the soul disappears, drawn into a black square, from the framework of which it is simply impossible to get out. With faith, life is a great mystery. As the saints say, life is a commission. What’s the assignment? It is heaven’s commission for man to meet God in his earthly days. St. Justin (Popovic) of Serbia admirably says that Christians seek the eternal in the temporal, the invisible in the visible, and God in the human. Christians are pilgrims of eternity, and they are constantly searching for divine gold in the earthly mire.

So let us try to look for this divine gold in the earthly swamp every day. It is scattered everywhere in every meeting, in every glance, in every little conversation we have. You just need to take a better look around you, take a deeper look into your own heart. Remember, there is a universally recognized human attitude, a saying that we have known since childhood: “I am a human being, and nothing human is alien to me.” Everyone knows that. Christianity, on the other hand, offers a different paradigm, a different way of looking at this world, a different system of values: “I am a human being, and therefore no human being is alien to me.”

Every day we walk along this dusty complex congested with traffic jams, overloaded with problems, overloaded with various business on the road of our lives, and we are often still blind, we often do not see. We are sick and unhappy. The Lord passes by every day, as in that parable. The same thing, the Lord is there every day. We are on a dusty road, and Christ is passing by us. And so, we have to shout harder, louder, more persistently, with great faith, like this blind man who spoke from his heart, “Lord, have mercy! Lord, have mercy!”, as ships that are sinking give the SOS signal. And the Lord answers quietly and humbly, Receive your sight, your faith has saved you. But each of us knows that God can also respond to our cries, our shouts and calls with silence. For those who know how to listen, it is in this silence, as Nikolai Kavasila says, “It is in this silence that the Lord confesses His love for a person.” Amen.

February 3, 2019

Igumen Tikhon (Borisov)
Translation by Igumen Seraphim (Bell)

Optina Monastery


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