Saint Augustine of Hippo on the Sunday of the Blind Man

Tractate 44 on the Gospel of John

1. We have just read the long lesson of the man born blind, whom the Lord Jesus restored to the light; but were we to attempt handling the whole of it, and considering, according to our ability, each passage in a way proportionate to its worth, the day would be insufficient. Wherefore I ask and warn your Charity not to require any words of ours on those passages whose meaning is manifest; for it would be too protracted to linger at each. I proceed, therefore, to set forth briefly the mystery of this blind man’s enlightenment. All, certainly, that was done by our Lord Jesus Christ, both works and words, are worthy of our astonishment and admiration: His works, because they are facts; His words, because they are signs. If we reflect, then, on what is signified by the deed here done, that blind man is the human race; for this blindness had place in the first man, through sin, from whom we all draw our origin, not only in respect of death, but also of unrighteousness. For if unbelief is blindness, and faith enlightenment, whom did Christ find a believer at His coming? Seeing that the apostle, belonging himself to the family of the prophets, says: And we also in times past were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. Ephesians 2:3 If children of wrath, then children of vengeance, children of punishment, children of hell. For how is it by nature, save that through the first man sinning moral evil rooted itself in us as a nature? If evil has so taken root within us, every man is born mentally blind. For if he sees, he has no need of a guide. If he does need one to guide and enlighten him, then is he blind from his birth.

St. John Chrysostom: on the Samaritan Woman

Homily 33
Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe Me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. (Jn. 4:23-27)

[1.] Everywhere, beloved, we have need of faith, faith the mother of blessings, the medicine of salvation; and without this it is impossible to possess any one of the great doctrines. Without this, men are like to those who attempt to cross the open sea without a ship, who for a little way hold out by swimming, using both hands and feet, but when they have advanced farther, are quickly swamped by the waves: in like manner they who use their own reasonings, before they have learnt anything, suffer shipwreck; as also Paul saith, "Who concerning faith have made shipwreck." ( 1 Tim. 1:19.) That this be not our case, let us hold fast the sacred anchor by which Christ bringeth over the Samaritan woman now. For when she had said, "How say ye that Jerusalem is the place in which men ought to worship?" Christ replied, "Believe Me, woman, that the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in Jerusalem, nor yet in this mountain, worship the Father." An exceedingly great doctrine He revealed to her, and one which He did not mention either to Nicodemus or Nathanael. She was eager to prove her own privileges more honorable than those of the Jews; and this she subtly argued from the Fathers, but Christ met not this question. For it was for the time distracting to speak on the matter, and to show why the Fathers worshiped in the mountain, and why the Jews at Jerusalem. Wherefore on this point He was silent, and having taken away from both places priority in dignity, rouses her soul by showing that neither Jews nor Samaritans possessed anything great in comparison with that which was to be given; and then He introduceth the difference. Yet even thus He declared that the Jews were more honorable, not preferring place to place, but giving them the precedence because of their intention. As though He had said, "About the `place' of worship ye have no need henceforth to dispute, but in the `manner' the Jews have an advantage over you Samaritans, for `ye,' He saith, `worship ye know not what; we know what we worship.'"

A man called Jesus

Our Lord Jesus Christ is without question God above all creatures. His Divine nature sufficiently manifested itself in the deeds that nobody except Him was able to do: to resurrect the dead, to cast out demons, to have power over the matter of the created world… Yet, all the same, Jesus was a real person and not a spirit.

What kind of person was He, then?

Inherent to Jesus was that openness and vulnerability of soul that can be observed—to a much lesser extent, of course—in people who are more or less pure or who are striving to acquire purity. Our Lord was brave but without insolence, generous without boasting, and compassionate without being sentimental. We can observe in Him that moral measure, that “golden mean”, which is sought by all who seek pure virtue. However, He is still a person. Not only an ideal Person but an ordinary person, too. From the physical point of view, such things as tiredness, hunger, pain, as well as being satisfied, experiencing the joy of physical activity and the sweetness of rest were all and known to Him. Psychologically, He experienced everything that a human being experiences—everything but sin.

This phrase “everything but sin” puts a strain on our brain and turns our inner experiences upside down. For sin has taken such deep root in us that, without fear of contradiction, we can say that we are unable to imagine what it is like to be “without sin”. The whole of human activity is poisoned by sin; the unforgettable writer Nicholai Gogol is a hundred times right when he tells us how it grieves him not to see “any good in goodness”.

An encounter with sinlessness is only possible in Christ. We are healed and fed by Christ, however utilitarian and crude this might sound. But this is how it should be. It is not sufficient to admire Christ from a distance, acknowledging His “contribution to moral teaching”. Such “distant admiration” and acknowledgement of his achievements are simply genuine nonsense dressed up as “spirituality”. It is indeed necessary to be fed by Christ, for He is the manna that came down from heaven. It is necessary to be healed by Him, as He is the only effective medical dressing for the ulcers that cover our souls.

Nevertheless I want to talk, albeit partially, about what a man called Jesus actually felt when He was living on this earth—what worried Him, what surrounded Him, and what moral pressures were brought to bear upon His sinless soul. He was lonely. He was persecuted and embattled by people’s intrigues. He was a victim well before His death. He was familiar with pain, a fact which makes Him very close to us and so very needed by us. For we too can be surrounded by a thick cloud of misunderstanding. We too feel scared, experience pain, and know that we shall die...

From the moment He began to teach and preach, they continually attempted to find ways to kill Him. The Gospel is full of phrases such as “they sought to kill Him” (Jn 5.16); “They sought all the more to kill Him” (Jn 5.18); “They sought to take Him” (Jn 7.30); “Then the Jews took up stones again to stone Him” (Jn 10.31); “Why do you seek to kill Me?” (Jn 7.19). These and other similar expressions convey the true nature of those unforgettable events; namely, the hunting down of the Sinless One, looking for an opportunity to shed His blood.

The three short years He spent travelling and preaching were, at the same time, three long years of anticipating death. Though unseen by an ordinary eye, these were years of persecution, years in which the God-Man was being pursued. At the sound of His words the dead rise again and demons flee. Yet people who are alive keep reaching for stones, and the scribes retire hastily to take counsel with each other in order to decide how to eliminate “that Man”. Is this not horrifying? Do we feel this horror? Do we notice it, when we observe the course of history, for what is history if not a battle between sin and sanctity and an attempt to extinguish the flame of righteousness once and for all?

Jesus will give Himself to people of His own accord. In fact, He has already done this through His incarnation. For the incarnation of the Son of God is the eternal union of man and God. However, it is not enough to become God’s relatives. Moreover, as we know, relatives all too often torment each other. And this new Relative needs to be killed.

He is aware of this. Even in the garden of Gethsemane He demonstrates His power by saying, “I am He”, and by making the armed crowd fall to the ground. Which is to say that all that has happened to Him—His being taken into custody, His subsequent humiliation and death—was, on His part, voluntary. It would not have happened, had He not wanted it. But this is what He became incarnate in order to endure. Let us remember once again that He is not simply the almighty God in human flesh but also a real person, just a man. Which means that for three years He lived in an atmosphere of constant danger and the anxiety triggered by it. Was He always as calm as a king or did His nerves sense the tension which accompanies the anticipation of danger?

We who are stuffed to the brim with television nonsense often watch films in which someone wants to kill someone else, and that someone runs away, hides, and seeks refuge from different people. We are titillated by an actor’s contrived fear, while we sit in our comfortable armchairs watching how the main character manages to outwit his enemies and stay alive. However, we ought to be thinking, at least sometimes, about how our Lord was tormented by the anticipation of His inevitable sufferings, for the sake of which He came into this world. This is what He Himself said: “But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished!” (Lk 12.50).

King David spent his earthly life amid frequent threats, either running away from his enemies or chasing after them. Once, while seeking refuge from the neighbouring kings, he even had to pretend to be mad and let his saliva run down his beard. Jesus, the son of David, does not do such things. He does not run away from His enemies, but goes around the towns of Israel instead. Nevertheless, He so often encounters animosity and is surrounded by so much plotting that His moving from town to town does, at times, look like fleeing.

The Baptist and Forerunner John, who was born six months before Jesus, also had to die a little earlier than Him. In the eyes of Jesus, John’s death must have become a sign of His own approaching death. This is why when He heard about John’s death, “He departed from there by boat to a deserted place by Himself” (Mt 14.13). He often did have to be by Himself. Not only because He was thinking about His future suffering and talking to His Father during prayer. Not only that. This frequent distancing of Himself from everybody and these nights spent in prayer are not only examples of His asceticism but are also His way of survival. Otherwise, if He did not flee from the people from time to time, He would not have survived. The more righteous a person is the stricter is this law. All the more so, if this concerns the most Holy Word of God.

He probably struggled even to live among people, let alone to teach them and to prepare Himself to die for them. For, essentially, He was the only healthy Person who had to live among embittered and sick sinners. The bleeding, the possessed, the paralysed form a background against which the figure of Jesus—who is young, sinless and perfect, but already condemned to death—stands out so clearly.

He does not simply heal people. He sees their thoughts (Mt 9.4). The cover that hides the stirring chaos and horror of the human heart, and that is impenetrable to an ordinary eye, is cast aside by Jesus. And this, too, is a source of suffering for Him, a kind of suffering that we cannot comprehend. It is a suffering that would be unbearable, if you did not love those whose secrets are revealed to you.

So He is very lonely, this Man called Jesus. “He made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men” (Phil 2.7). In all but sin, He became like us until He accomplished His mission and returned to where He came from. On earth He is very lonely. People eat from His hands and receive healing by touching His clothes; but still he is lonely, even when surrounded by the multitudes. And this too is torment.

Only a few souls such as Lazarus console our Lord with their simplicity and sincerity. Like Lazarus, they can even receive, as if it were a title, the name “friend of Jesus”. In the home of loving and well-wishing people such as Martha, Mary and Lazarus, Christ can enjoy a rare and precious moment of rest. It might seem that closest to Him were the apostles whom He had chosen. However, they are so dreadfully far from understanding His views and His mission that on one occasion He had to say to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men” (Mk 8.33). And this was said soon after Peter’s famous proclamation of Jesus as the Christ!

They go up to Jerusalem with Him, but argue on the way about who among them is greater. He goes there to be crucified, but they argue about their glory. His way of thinking and theirs are separated by an abyss, and was this not what Isaiah talked about? “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Is 55.9).

We are aware of Him and remember Him as someone who loves us, which is probably why we are ready to imagine Him smiling and happy. Protestant booklets and greetings cards portray Him exactly like that—as a smiling friend, well known to us, whose arms are wide-open. However, from a historical point of view, this is completely wrong. In the case of Jesus, to be loving means to be crucified.

“Loving”, with regard to Christ, does not mean, “happily smiling”, but “blood-stained, weakened, hanging on the Cross with a drooping head”. The gospels never describe Him as “smiling”. On the contrary, they mention His anger. He looks at the Pharisees with anger and grieves over their hardened hearts. He is angry when the apostles forbid the children to come to Him. The zeal for the house of God stirs up anger in Him twice, and He throws traders out of the temple. More examples could be quoted.

Anger is the other side of love, or rather one of the forms that love takes. He who is unable to love is also unable to be angry. He can become irritated when his vain pride is hurt, but is unable to get angry. He is tolerant or, more precisely, indifferent. In this sense, Jesus is extremely intolerant.

He is truly the most amazing Man. The whole of history that we call Christian is filled, in its best parts, by efforts directed at a genuine and deep understanding of Him. He is searching for us, but we tend to forget about Him. When we are happy, we seldom need Him. But when we are frightened, distressed or lonely, only then do we become capable of an encounter Him. Which is why, when He lived here on earth, He had no place to lay down His head; was pursued, slandered and defamed many a time; lived under the threat of death; but in the end did what He had come for—to die for our sins and rise again.

 

Saint Mary of Egypt and the Holy Communion

Saint Mary of Egypt struggled in desert for forty-seven years without receiving Holy Communion. As it is known, the saint retired to the wilderness to repent of her very desolate life.

On the one hand, we must take it as an extraordinary example of repentance; on the other hand, we must not forget to preserve this extraordinary character.

The Akathist Hymn to the Mother of God

The Akathist Hymn is one of the most well-loved services of devotion in the Orthodox Church. Although there is some debate concerning the particulars of its authorship, many scholars agree with the pious tradition which states that the Akathist was composed in the imperial city of Constantinople, "the city of the Virgin," by St. Romanos the Melodist, who reposed in the year 556. The Akathist Hymn has proved so popular that many other hymns have been written following its format, particularly in the Russian Orthodox Church. These include Akathists to Our Lord Jesus Christ, to the Cross, to various saints, etc.