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Sermons of Archpriest Anthony B. Gavalas
Freedom from Paralysis
Christ is Risen!
So today my beloved brothers and sisters we celebrate the Lord's Day that is dedicated to the miracle of the cure, of the healing, of the paralyzed man, the first of the three next Sundays in which the miracles have some relationship with water, water being in the language of Holy Scripture an image of divine grace.
And we see the paralyzed man, thirty-eight years paralyzed by the pool, year after year waiting for the troubling of the waters, waiting for an angel to come down to that pool around which were five porches, under which were sheltered a multitude of sick people; many, many sick people suffering from all kinds of diseases waiting for that opportunity when the angel would come and trouble the waters wherein the first person who stepped would be cured.
A great miracle was served there at that pool. Of course a much greater, a much greater miracle is served every time an Orthodox Christian is baptized. For look, that pool only cured one person every once in a while. But that baptismal font of Orthodoxy has given birth, and freedom, and cure from the results of the ancestral disease. The ancestral sin of Adam and Eve is cured in every child as he comes out of the baptismal font, wherein he is made no longer waiting for his death, but waiting for his life. No longer is the person who has been baptized in Orthodox fashion, no longer is that person a candidate for death and destruction, but rather he has made a beginning, he is born into that kingdom of the Church, there to work his salvation in Christ Jesus through the Holy Mysteries, and to be taken at the end of his life not to death, but to life. Millions of people have been cured; millions of people have been given their strength; millions of people have been freed by the baptismal font of Holy Orthodoxy.
Still we look with wonder on this man who for thirty-eight years suffered this terrible, terrible disease, and he has become for us a symbol of patience. This "patience" is a great virtue. How great? Our Savior has said With patience you will possess your soul. Through patience you will overcome everything, all impediments, all difficulties; through patience you will posses that most precious of things, that is your own soul. Have patience. And so we cling to any opportunity and any example for patience, so that we might learn how to be patient.
It is a bit of a coincidence, though in truth there are no coincidences, that tomorrow on the monthly calendar of the Orthodox Church we commemorate the memory of that saint of the Old Testament who has become the par excellence image of patience, and that's Job. Job who was a faithful servant of God and who was very, very wealthy. He had flocks, he had gold, he had houses, he had property, he had everything. And he had that most precious thing of all: he had a family, a wife and children. And the devil had malice, as the devil always has malice against any faithful servant of God. And he went, and he had a conversation with the Almighty, and he says to Him Sure Job is very, very good; Job is very faithful to You now; he has everything. There's no problem in his life; he has wealth, he has family, he has reputation, he has everything. If he were to lose those things I'll tell you what he'd do. He would stop being Your faithful servant. And God-- because God knew Job, God created Job, God made Job, He knew exactly what material that Job had in him-- said Go ahead do whatever you want, be careful don't touch his life. And sure enough in very short order Job lost everything. He lost his wealth; he lost his property; he lost his herds; he lost his servants; he lost his house; he lost his children, who died. And he who formerly lived as a king in a palace was reduced to sitting on a dung hill, on a compost heap, with nothing on except his rags and his body marked by terrible ulcers and sores. And his wife lost her patience also, and in her despair said to him Why don't you just curse God, Who has permitted all of this to happen to you, curse Him and die. At least this will be over with; at least you won't have to suffer any more. But Job, that pillar of strength and patience, replied I know that my Redeemer liveth. I came naked into this world, and surely I will leave naked, but my Redeemer is alive, my God is alive, and I know that even if I should die, even if my own life should be taken away, He will resurrect me.
And he resisted all of the taunts of his wife and of his friends, till our Lord saw and said, Look. This is the man who you expected to curse Me because he fell into misfortune. His glory is even greater.
And God restored to him everything, restored to him double, double of everything that he had. Double his homes, his wealth, his herds, his servants, everything, and restored his children, but not double. His children were restored to him in exactly the same number that he had before the catastrophe. Why? Because the other set of children were still alive; they were in the other world. So he had double the children, it's just that he did not have them all here and now, but they were all resurrected when our Savior descended into Hades and freed the souls of those who were held captive there through the power of death that had been loosed by the Resurrection. By the lightening bolt of Jesus Christ's Resurrection, all of those, the righteous of the Old Testament were resurrected.
But today we celebrate and bring to mind that other pillar of patience, the man who was healed at the sheep pool. Patience, indeed patience. Thirty-eight years sick, and some stranger comes along and looks at him and says Do you want to be made well? I have no patience, none whatsoever. And I have a jealousy, if you will, and I am always moved, because I know how I would have answered that question. With all of the sarcasm and all of the bitterness at my disposal I would have answered as sharply as I know how such a question. Here I am thirty-eight years in this condition and You're asking me if I want to be made well?......and a few other things probably. But look at this man's answer, the sweetness, and the gentleness, and the meekness that I wish I had when I am taunted, when I am irritated by someone. Sir, I have no man, that when the waters are troubled can take me and put me. But even as I am dragging myself toward the edge of the pool someone else healthier than me perhaps goes into the pool and he's cured, and I am left as I am. Would that all of us, would that I, could be able to answer like that when I am irritated by someone, when someone asks me an obvious question, when someone finds me in a bad mood.
Because you know Christianity is not just about how to get to heaven. Christianity's way to heaven starts here on earth. And we have to learn how to act and be Christians here on the earth. Already from the Old Testament we are told A soft answer turneth away wrath, if we can answer softly, and if the person that we are answering softly would not be offended thinking that we are being patronizing, for we are all prisoners of our passions.
I have no man, the paralyzed man says. And St. John Chrysostom comes and says What do you mean you have no Man? What do you mean you have no Man? Look, God became Man for your sake; He Who is One of the Trinity took on flesh and all of your humanness, and is here to save you. Don't say you have no man, for God has bowed down the heavens for you, and has not sent an angel to trouble the waters, but rather He Himself has come.
My beloved brothers and sisters, that paralyzed man was healed that day by He Who is One of the Trinity. He accepted his healing from God. For what would we have said about this man if he had had the opportunity for healing and had refused it? What would we say about anyone who is paralyzed and does not accept his healing? What would we say about anyone who had before him a doctor who can cure him of his paralysis, and yet he has contempt for the doctor?
That paralyzed man is every one of us who is paralyzed by bad habits. For habit is a terrible thing. We have built up various habits in our lives, and we have permitted them to become second nature. As our wise ancestors tell us, habit is second nature, and here we are with those things that have become habitual to us, and we are paralyzed by them, the passions, the angers, the resentments, our gluttony, our overeating, our overdrinking, our carnal sins, the resentments we bear one another. Those resentments--what a terrible thing they are. I know them because I've seen them in my own family. I had kinfolk, a brother and a sister who died not speaking to each other over a bit of land. It wasn't even a good bit of land. It was rocky, had some cactuses on it, and that was it. But because one had it and the other one didn't and said he should, they died not speaking to each other.
As terrible as physical paralysis is, as horrible as the paralysis of the members of our body is, so much more horrible is the paralysis of habits.
The holy fathers in many of their works exhort us to strive against this paralysis, so we can lift up our hands to prayer, we can stretch out our hands to give alms, so that we can pick ourselves up and go to church, and go to visit the sick. I remember a particularly striking passage in one of the fathers: Now while you are able to get up out of your bed and go the Syanxis of the Divine Liturgy where the Christians are, because there is going to come a time when you will not be able to get out of the box in which they have put you. Now while you are able to raise your hand and cross yourself, and you can stretch out your hand and give alms, do so, because there's going to come a time when you are bound by your shroud, and will not be able to do so. Now while you are able to walk, visit the sick, go to the places of worship, because again your shroud will hinder you on that day. While you are able to speak those blessed words of the prayers, speak them, pray them, because there will come a time when your jaw will be bound--as they did in those days for the dead--your jaw will be bound and you will not be able to speak, and you will not be able to pray.
My beloved and sisters, you are all witnesses of those wonderful, wonderful things that Jesus Christ did during Holy Week, the things that He suffered for our sakes, the things that He went through for the sake of our salvation. Do you know that the only thing that can make God's will and God's grace inoperable is us? God, Who causes the sun to rise, Who brings us the clouds and the rain, who causes huge trees to grow, Who can move mountains with earthquakes, is powerless if our free will does not cooperate with the will of God. God is rendered powerless by our paralysis, by our bad habits. It is not God Who does not want our salvation. We are the ones who interfere in our salvation.
Therefore my beloved brothers and sisters, using this opportunity in each one of us--for we know ourselves--we are fooling ourselves when we say that this is my character, this is how I am, this is how God made me--God forbid such a blasphemy. God makes no one a passion-ridden person. We make ourselves that way. May God give us the strength to acknowledge that we are paralyzed by our own bad habits, and teach us to love the opposite of what is paralyzing us, teach us to love moderation, teach us to love peace, teach us to love quietness, teach us to love carefulness in all things, so that that paralysis will be loosened. And just as sure as that man was able to make his own bed and take it up and walk, so will we be free from the terrible paralysis that has kept us from our full potential as Christians.
May this be so lest we be guilty of rendering the Passion, the Death, and the Resurrection of Christ Jesus to be of no account because of our obstinacy.
Through the intercessions of the holy prophet St. Job, of that blessed man who today was cured of thirty eight years of paralysis, through his example may we learn patience, and may we be free from the paralysis of our bad habits, through the Passion, and Death, and Resurrection of Christ Jesus our Lord, Who together with His Father and the Holy Spirit is worshipped in Orthodox fashion by Orthodox Christians.
Christ is Risen!
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