Blindness and Light
There is a lot of talk in the gospels about blindness, for Jesus is the light of the world. Most people are not blind, they just have no light. I want all of us to experience the fullness of what the body of Christ is offering us. But we keep our eyes closed. Some may think that all that is required to be Orthodox is to wear a head covering and learn how to ask for a blessing.
I want to do everything I can to encourage all of us to live a traditional Orthodox lifestyle. Whatever picture came to your mind when I say “traditional Orthodox lifestyle” it is most likely incomplete. Almost every Orthodox spiritual writer that I have read emphasizes that true Orthodoxy is a matter of the heart. Without warmth of heart towards God and our neighbor, there can be no true faith. Father Seraphim Rose wrote,
“Orthodoxy is not merely a ritual, or belief, or a pattern of behavior, or anything else that a man may possess, thinking that he is thereby a Christian, and be spiritually dead; it is rather an elemental reality of power which transforms a man and gives him strength to live in the most difficult and tormenting conditions, and prepares him to depart with peace into eternal life.”
This elemental reality of power which Father Seraphim speaks about is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit it is a living and eternal flame of love found in the heart of a Christian. It is the seal and the promise of our baptism waiting to be fully realized in our lives. Walking in the Spirit is Orthodoxy in its most fundamental reality. Saint Seraphim of Sarov says that the only true purpose, the only real goal of any Orthodox life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit.
When someone from the outside asks “what is Orthodoxy?” most of the time they want to focus on externals. From their perspective they see Orthodoxy as an overwhelming list of man-made rules about things like attending liturgy, fasting, written prayers, conservative dress and so on. They say that faith is freedom in Christ. And I whole heartily agree, but because of our blindness we do not see the complete picture. In order to help us to understand the relationship of internal faith and external things, I want to read a quote from Saint Theophan the Recluse:
“People concern themselves with Christian upbringing, but leave it incomplete. They neglect the most essential and most difficult side of the Christian life and dwell on what is easiest – the visible and external. This imperfect and misdirected upbringing produces people who observe with the utmost correctness all the formal outward rules for devout conduct, but who pay little or no attention to the inward movements of the heart, and to true improvement of the inner spiritual life.”
At this point I need to make something perfectly clear. I am not saying I want pews in the church or a modern secular approach to our faith. I am saying quite the opposite. But if we have no concern for what is happening in our heart, we miss the meaning and the value of the truthful and pious life.
Every day I pray for the growth and the formation of our church. I am not talking about numbers. I also pray that we will embrace a traditional Orthodox lifestyle. I do not ask because I believe we lack a simple faith in our Lord, I ask these things because of the potential I see. I already see a community of saints. I already see in you a willingness to give and learn and be salt and light to a dying world. I see in all of you a willingness to take up your cross and follow our Lord. The cross cannot be embraced without suffering. A non-suffering Orthodox Christian is a contradiction of terms. A non-suffering Orthodox Christian is on the road to hell. We are on a much different road. Out road goes up and it gets narrow. Our road has people waiting along the way that are looking to see Jesus.
If we are honest all of us have reacted like the people in the Gospel. “Please be quiet because you do not know God the way we know God.” That is where the crowd went wrong. There are no rules of behavior that will enable us to conform our lives to Christ. But in the same breath we will never say that following Christ is something that we can accomplish by wishing it to be so. Following Christ means that our entire being is engaged in the process and it involves effort on our part. Proper etiquette and a pious look are not the goal. Those things come as a natural result of a life devoted to Christ.
God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder. We recognize that our God is greater than anything we can say or think about Him. So we find it necessary to refer to Him not just through direct statements but through pictures, images and our actions. Anything we say about God however correct falls short of the living truth if we say he is good or just, we must immediately add that His goodness and justice cannot be measured by human standards. If we say that He is love which He is we must clarify the fact that His love is so beyond our capabilities that He is beyond love. That’s why this Gospel lesson from Luke 18:35-43 is so meaningful. Bartemaius sees our Lord with his heart. Our Lord comes to us as we cry out for Him and he asks “what do you want me to do for you?” How will we answer Him? My prayer is that we answer Him with our hearts.
Our purpose in this life is to imitate Him. This is what I want us to see, this is what I want us to thirst for. To imitate our Lord is to stop and listen to someone who is in need. To imitate Jesus is to give hope to someone or to show that someone cares about them. We may not be able to cure a blind man or a crippled person, but we can let them know that we care. We can listen to them. We can wipe away their tears, even if we cannot take away their pain. We can notice them by taking time out of our busy lives. Our eyes are opened when we begin to see that every person we encounter is important to our salvation and our own well-being. As Metropolitan Anthony Bloom said:
” …And I think that if we became even a small light – if we became nothing but a small handful of salt that prevents corruption – if we could bring a little hope to the hearts of people who have lost all hope, a little faith in the sense of trust and faithfulness and knowledge of God, a little love, we would be fulfilling our vocation. This is what we should bring, each of us perhaps a crumb, all of us all we possess, and express this in the readiness to give without asking any return.” (This Holy Man: Impressions of Metropolitan Anthony, pg 159)
Your faith has made you well. An immediately they received their sight, and followed Him glorifying God. And all of the people when they saw it gave praise to God.
Image courtesy of Neil Moralee.