Orthodox Christian Church of the Holy Spirit
Orthodox Church in America - Archdiocese of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania
145 N. Kern St Beavertown PA, 17813
Sunday of the Blind Man

Christ is Risen!
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“[S]ome of the Pharisees said, ‘This Man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.’ But others said, ‘How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?’… ‘Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him.
Since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind. If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing’” (John 9:16, 31-33).

You will remember, brethren, two weeks ago, we heard the Gospel Reading of the “Healing of the Paralytic.” Jesus heals a paralytic on the Sabbath; it is a miracle. “Glory to God! Thank God!” This would be the appropriate response. But the Pharisees are outraged. This teacher, Jesus of Nazareth, has both worked and made another to work—the paralytic, by taking up his mat—on the Sabbath. He has broken the Law; he is a “sinner.”
This instance parallels and well complements today’s Gospel Reading of the “Healing of the Blind Man.” Jesus—God (important to remember; Jesus: God)—heals a man, and he is criticized for it. Jesus “breaks the Law” to do a supernatural work, and he is criticized. As Christians, in retrospect, the absurdity, the “moral ir-religiosity” of the Pharisees, is apparent. “How ridiculous! How very Pharisaical!” we scoff. And it is. The Pharisees are so bound to the written word that they cannot appreciate, they cannot glory in, the work of God witnessed in this man born blind. Recall again what St. Paul says to the Corinthian Church: “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor 3:6). It is easy to point at the Pharisees and to hold them up as examples of “religion gone awry,” as superficially moral and spiritually callous. Anyone can follow the rule book; it takes a truly exemplary spiritual athlete to rise above, to surpass morality: to attain to true godliness, to holiness, to love. It is easy—too easy—to point at the Pharisees, and… to not see ourselves in them. We too like rules, and we too measure the morality of a man by how well he “toes the line.” However, a man can be objectively moral, and nonetheless, fail to admit true godliness.
So, my dear brethren, today, you get to hear pt. 2 of my sermon series, “Orthodox Christianity is Not About Being Moral.” No, indeed, it is not. There will be plenty of things we do that do have a strong moral component; or at least, are very apparently, culturally and historically, “moral” or “immoral”: killing, lying, stealing, whoring about. But we call these things “moral” not because they check a certain box, or fill a certain prescript, but because they inform us deeply, spiritually; either more into the image and likeness of God, or less so. “Keep the Sabbath.” Why?
“For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day” (Exod 20:11).

See? The aim of the Law is to make us like God, to form in us a habit of godliness. We would do well to follow these formative strictures, that is, to be at least as moral as the Law encourages us to be. And Christ himself says this to his disciples, specifically, in his Sermon on the Mount:
“Therefore, anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:19-20).

This warning of our Lord has a twofold meaning: (1) it reaffirms what we have said previously, that the Law is to form in us an “image of godliness,” that is, righteousness in obedience, but (2) that, as disciples of Jesus, our righteousness must surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees, that is “righteousness as legality or morality.” Christ is saying, in short, “You must be at least moral, but if you are only moral, then surely, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Returning to our Gospel Reading, morality would be keeping the Sabbath in spite of the blind man, in spite of the paralytic. But true Christian spirituality, true godliness, is healing the blind man because of the Sabbath! Let’s say that again: true Christian spirituality, true godliness, is healing the blind man because of the Sabbath. How can this be? How does one keep the Sabbath and do work on it? “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” our Lord says (Mark 2:27). The Sabbath exists for rest. But how does one rest who is afflicted? How does one rest who from infancy has known nothing but the estate of a fallen creation “groaning in the pains of childbirth until the present time” (Rom 8:22)? They cannot rest, until they are brought into that Rest, of which the Apostle says,
“There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his” (Heb 4:9-10a).

This “Sabbath-rest” is nothing other than the completed work of Christ on the cross: a saving work, a healing work. All healing—all wholeness of soul and body—has its theological genesis in Christ: in his incarnation, his death, his resurrection. What Christ offers the blind man is more than sight. He offers him a participation in the saving work of the resurrection, a work which is simultaneously a rest. For in working, Christ offers to this man the “Sabbath-rest” spoken of by the Apostle, fulfilling his own doctrine: “I did not come to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it” (Matt 5:17).
In Christ, we are all called to this spiritual paradox, to fulfill the Law by transcending the Law. We are called in Christ—not to morality, not to letter, not to tradition “for the sake of tradition”—but to a hyper-morality, a super-morality. Because of Christ, we do not regard the “law of the tithe” as binding, not because we are unwilling or un-required to give ten percent of our income to God, but because God wants everything from us!
“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Cor 6:19-20a).

Because of Christ, we do not regard the “law of the Sabbath” as binding, not because we are beyond or above working ourselves to death—we still do this! We need to “take it easy” from time-to-time—but because in Christ we rest in the finished work of the New Creation, the finished work of the New Adam. We live in the Kingdom, where the edict of Eden—“by the sweat of the brow you will eat your food” (Gen 3:19)—has been repealed, and Christ graciously offers himself to us, not as a wage, but as a gift,
“Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life… . [For] my Body is true food, and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my body and drink my blood live in me, and I live in them” (John 6:27, 55-56).

“[S]ome of the Pharisees said, ‘This Man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.’ But others said, ‘How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?’… ‘Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him.
Since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind. If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing’” (John 9:16, 31-33).

Brethren, it is paramount that in our interactions with one another, we do not use a letter, a word, a tradition, to gauge true piety. The examples are innumerable in the history of our Orthodox Church: a saint, a bishop, a fool-for-Christ who very much does not behave “properly,” and yet, men are healed, the Gospel is preached, and many souls are brought to Christ through their unusual testimony. Therefore, let us be gracious with one another; rigorous with ourselves, and gracious with one another. Let us encourage, in one another, true godliness in love. And let us pray to God to take away our own spiritual blindness, to see and to seek a holiness beyond mere morality, so that maybe some in the world would say of us, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs…?” (John 9:16).

Through the prayers of our holy fathers, O Lord, Jesus Christ, our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

Christ is Risen! Indeed, He is Risen!

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