A Sermon for 25th Sunday after Pentecost:
Jairus’ Daughter & the Woman with the Issue of Blood
Abba Isaac says:
At a time of darkness, kneeling is more helpful than anything else. … Even if our thoughts are cold and murky, we ought to persist long in kneeling. And although our hearts should be dead at those times and we should not even have a prayer or know what we ought to say, since no words or supplication come to us, nor even a petition, still we ought to remain continually prostrate upon our faces, though we keep silence.
When we are in need of help from God in some matter and are deprived of it, we rightly have not received it because we do not draw near to God in prayer with earnestness and fervor both day and night, loudly crying out to Him with pain; rather, we expect Him to give it to us of His own accord. He, however, contrives a cause to bring us close to Him by leaving us in tribulation. For by His very delay in coming to our rescue, He obliges us to tarry before His door in our supplications, and thus He brings about our help.
This is exactly what we see in today’s Gospel: “Behold, there came a man named Jairus … and he fell down at Jesus’ feet and besought Him…” This is how the publican—who was justified by Christ despite his multitude of sins—this is how he prayed also. And many other accounts in the Holy Gospel we see time after time that the sick, the blind, the paralyzed, those who had loved ones who were ill or possessed or dead, all those in need, came and fell down before Christ in humility.
But above all, Christ Himself has given us, in a most vivid example, this rule of bowing down before God. We see Him in agony, sweating blood in Gethsemane, falling down before the Father on His knees with His faced bowed to the earth. This is the image of extreme humility, long-suffering patience, the full manifestation of poverty, total need and dependence upon God for all things, every single thing—from the loftiest to the tiniest. If His own Son did so, this was for our sake, to show us this path of falling down in prayer in body and soul, just as Abba Isaac describes.
St. Paul teaches us this meaning regarding Christ in Gethsemane in his Epistle to the Hebrews. He says:
In the days of His flesh, He offered up prayers and supplications—with strong crying and tears, unto Him that was able to save Him from death—and He was heard, because He feared. Though He is the Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And being made perfect, He became the Author, the Cause, of salvation unto all that obey Him.
This very Christ, the Only Son of God, the Pre-eternal King of the angels, He Who has always existed together with the Father and the Spirit, this very One, the Only Sinless One, not only became a Man, not only humbly worked in obscurity, silence, obedience and lowliness as a carpenter for thirty years, but, as St. Paul reveals to us, this very Christ our Lord suffered great agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Why? St. Paul says He prayed to the Father “that was able to save Him from death, and He was heard”; why? “Because He feared.” Feared what, or rather who? As a Man, he feared God the Father. Even so, the Holy Fathers also unanimously teach us that He, as a Man, voluntarily allowed Himself to enter into that fear of death—that completely unnatural state where the body and soul are rent apart and separated. However He did not despair. Even as St. Paul says elsewhere, He was tempted in all things like unto us, yet without sin; and He is not untouched by our infirmities.
St. John of the Ladder distinguishes the difference for us. He says: “Fear of death is a property of nature that comes from disobedience, but trembling at death is a sign of unrepented sins. Christ fears death,” the Saint continues, “but does not tremble, in order to demonstrate clearly the properties of His two natures.” But the Saint says that fear of death comes from disobedience. Yet we know that Christ is a sinless and perfectly obedient Man. Why then did He fear? St. Paul teaches us. Let us hear him again: “Though He is the Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And being made perfect, He became the Author, the Cause, of salvation unto all that obey Him.”
The Holy Fathers and Teachers of the Church teach us that Christ’s human nature was deified at the very moment of His conception in the womb of the Most Holy Virgin. At that moment, He Who was completely bodiless as God became a Man, the God-Man. At that very moment, the Son of God forever exists as both God and Man. This is why virtue and power—as it says in the Gospel today—went out of Him. He is over-filled with divine power in that He is God in the flesh. Because of His divine nature, He could walk on water, He could heal the sick, cast out demons, raise up the dead—and all of this and more, by a slight touch, by a mere word, but only for our sake, for all He needs to do is simply desire or wish something and it is reality. This is the same divine power that in the beginning simply desired and created the countless worlds of angels and the entire vast universe and all things contained in it.
But He did more than just heal bodily disease. He forgave sins, He loosed men from their bondage to the devil. All of this by His divine power, for which nothing is impossible. But He did even more than this. He entered into our interior struggle with sin, with death, with the devil, with hell. He entered into our personal struggle with the devil in the desert after His Baptism. He entered into our personal struggle with sin and disobedience in the Garden of Gethsemane. He entered into our personal struggle with death when He tasted death in the flesh on the Cross. He entered into our personal struggle with hell when His all-pure, most sinless and all-conquering and fearless soul descended into the dark and horrible chambers of spiritual death, hades. He is no stranger to our interior struggle at all. This is the Only God Whom we worship. No other religion has such a God as our God. Because their god or gods are either demons or—at best—shadowy and faint images of the Only True God, which the imperfect minds of even the purest and noblest of men can only form a microscopic fraction of truth about. Only the God and Father Who is fully revealed by Christ our Lord is the True God, together with His Son, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. As St. Paul says in today’s Epistle, there is one body—that is, one Church. There is One Spirit, One Lord, One Father, one Faith.
The Muslims who are obedient to the Qur’an find our God to be a horrible blasphemy. They believe that it is a completely terrible idea that God would become a lowly Man, let alone suffer, be crucified and die in the flesh. St. Paul anticipated their error in thundering prophecy over 600 years prior to the deluded Muhammad: “The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men … The Jews require a sign and the Greeks seek after wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks.” The “wisdom” of the Qur’an is condemned under these same words, for it is unbefitting of most high and transcendent and untouchable Muslim Allah to descend to such disgrace as the Cross and death.
Our Faith indeed teaches us that God is the Most High, that He is beyond all being, all life, source of all being, source of all life—He is wholly divine and beyond all divinity, beyond all things, all conception, all speech. But we know that this untouchable One is Trinity, Three Persons of Love. God cannot be Love as the Theologian John tells us if He is some impersonal monad, some lonely and singular person. No! The Only True God is Three Persons in one divine nature. One of these Three became a Man, freely allowed Himself to be touched by the consequences of our sins. St. Paul says that He Who is without sin became sin for us. He Who is the Only Blessed God became a curse for us. He Who is Life Itself became death for us. Our God, our Christ, is not just an Almighty Wonder-worker Who we constantly see in the Gospels healing the sick, raising up the paralyzed, opening the eyes of the blind, casting out demons, and raising the dead. If He was only this, then our healing would only be something external to us, something outside of us, something which remains far from the deepest parts of our afflicted and ailing hearts. Our God is much more than this. Again, let us hear St. Paul: “Though He is the Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And being made perfect, He became the Author, the Cause, of salvation unto all that obey Him.”
Do we understand this? He Who has always remained inseparably one with His Father, He Himself freely chose to enter into our struggle, He freely chose to become a learner. He learned obedience. By what? By the things which He suffered. What did He suffer? The agony which is not His, but ours alone, the agony of spiritual death which leads to bodily death, which leads to fear, which leads to slavery to the devil, which leads us to cling helplessly and fearfully to this shadow of reality, this passing, vain, brief earthly life.
He learned obedience. Who? He, Who as God from God cannot be anything but obedient to His God and Father. How? By becoming a Man, by tasting our death, by bearing our weak flesh which naturally clings to life, which loves life. He allowed Himself to taste that fear which grips us by the cold approach of death—that unnatural beast which entered the world because we sinned and turned away from Life, from God. As God, Christ is inseparably one and forever obedient to the Father; but as Man He chose to learn obedience. As God, Christ is untouched by suffering, transcending all things, dwelling in unapproachable light; but as Man He suffered—agony, beatings, ridicule, abandonment, betrayal, curses, blasphemies, God-forsakenness. As God, Christ is perfect, beyond all perfection, Source of all perfection, the perfecting of the imperfect, and the heightless Height of limitless Perfection which even the most perfect will never attain to, though the blessed Saints and all who are found in the Kingdom will seek to ascend higher and higher into His limitless perfection. As God, Christ is wholly perfect; but as a Man, He—says St. Paul—He was made perfect. As God, Christ is the Author and Cause of our life; but by becoming a Man, He was made perfect through sufferings, and therefore became the Author of salvation to all who obey Him.
He became obedient. Unto whom? As a Man, first of all, to the Father. But also in humility He was obedient to those who bound Him and led Him as a blameless Lamb to His slaughter. But He was not only obedient to sinful and evil-willed men. But He was obedient even unto death. This teaching of the Apostle does not simply mean that He was obedient to God and the leading of men until He was led to death. But above all, it means that He Who is Himself Eternal Life—this One humbled Himself before death, freely submitting to its unnatural laws and ways—something completely foreign to Him as both Immortal God and Sinless Man.
Here is a great mystery! This is our God. Not some sort of impersonal and stern ruler of the cosmos who looks down on us without feeling. Not some sort of romantic dream, or sublime conception of the limited mind of the loftiest philosopher. Not some sort of mechanical uncaused Cause, or watch-maker who is completely disinterested in His creation. Not some sort of impersonal blob of simplicity which we melt into through oblivion or nirvana. Not some sort of feeling of bliss or exalted emotion or pantheistic monstrosity or utopian ideal.
Christ God, Who became a Man, Who entered His sinless soul into the contest with sin, Who painfully forced His human will to cling to the divine will, Who felt the pangs of death, Who endured the terrors and stench of the dark realm of gloomy hades—spiritual death—this Christ our God is the perfect image of the Only True God, the Father of all. He entered into our agony, our fear, our struggle to be obedient to God, our struggle to overcome sin—He entered all of this, yet was not overcome by it. He overcame all!
He is the only Man to have overcome sin, death, fear, sin, the devil and hell, for He alone is God. He is the Victor, He is our Example, He is our Helper, He is our Life, our Goal, He Who leads us every step of the way. He hears and feels every thought, every cry, every prayer, every wound, every pain, every sorrow, even the slightest movement of our heart and our feeble attempts to cast our mental gaze back at Him. He sees and feels all of this—not as someone foreign to our lowly state, not as some golden Zeus upon a cloud way up there, but as one Who feels with us, and in us, and for us. He dwells within us. He suffers more than us because of our sins. He knows our sinfulness far more keenly than we can ever know. And He feels the pain of our distance from God even more than we feel it. This is the Only True God. The One Who is no stranger to our struggle.
Let us comprehend this! Let us beg Him to understand a glimmer of this truth! Let us thirst insatiably to ever become more aware of just how wondrous and loving and humble our God is Who dwells in us, with us, and is for us! It is by Him, through the Holy Spirit, that God the Father—as St. Paul says—is both above all, and through all, and more than all of this, Who is in you all. May we also abide in Him, even as He abides in us. May we also find Him in the depths of our hearts, more and more, as we journey towards Him in the mysterious and, to us, unknown paths, but to Him, well-known paths, of our struggle for salvation, transformation, sanctification and ever-deepening union with our One God in Three Persons and each other, through our common and shared struggle for unity as the very Body of Christ, the very Body of God—which we are, and are becoming through repentance, prayer and the deifying grace of the Holy Mysteries. Amen.