Are We Blind Also? - A Sermon on the Sunday of the Blind Man (2024)

Are We Blind Also? - A Sermon on the Sunday of the Blind Man (2024) - Holy Cross Monastery

Christ is risen!

My brothers and sisters, what a blessed and glorious thing is the gift of light! At the beginning of the creation of the world, the very first words spoken by the Lord God were precisely: “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3). It is above all through the gift of light that we perceive the world around us, beholding the infinite beauty and grandeur of God’s creation. Even more than this, it is through the gift of light that we see one another, know one another, and commune with one another, as we behold one other face to face. How barren would our lives become if the light of this world were suddenly snuffed out… and how much emptier by far would our lives have been, had we never known that light at all!

Just such an unspeakable tragedy was the lot of the man in today’s Gospel, the man born blind, the man whom the Holy Church commands us to commemorate each year on this sixth Sunday of Pascha. For him the world was darkness, and had never been anything but darkness; for him, it had always been as it first was in the beginning, before God spoke light into existence: “the earth was without form, and void.” How lonely and how sorrowful must his whole life have been, to live isolated in such vast emptiness, hearing all around him the disembodied voices of men, listening to their words (but only barely comprehending) as they spoke casually and unthinkingly of wonders about which he could not even so much as dream.

But there is more than one kind of blindness. And despite the unending horror in which this man had suffered throughout all the days of his life, nevertheless it turns out that his own form of blindness was, in fact, less grievous than that of many others in today’s Gospel story.

Let us begin with the disciples themselves:

And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.

John 9:1-5

At the beginning of the Gospel of John, the Beloved Disciple declares that “the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). Yet the disciples in today’s Gospel passage, though already followers of the Lord Christ, had not yet had their eyes opened to all the fullness of His grace and truth. Their spiritual vision was still tragically shortsighted: when they encountered the man born blind, they could understand his fate only as an act of divine retribution for sin. In other words, they themselves proved to be blind: unable to perceive the lofty wisdom of the providence of God, or the inexpressible depths of His divine loving-kindness. They were unable to see the great truth that suffering is not at all a sign that the Lord has rejected or abandoned us, but rather that He is preparing the way for “the works of God [to] be made manifest in [us].”

For what, indeed, are the “works of God”? The very same which Christ Himself both taught and showed us, all throughout His life on this earth: “This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13). The works of God are always and only the works of self-sacrificing and self-emptying love — and on this broken and sinful earth, such works can only be accomplished by those whose hearts have learned how to suffer.

And indeed, we see straightway in today’s Gospel passage the blessed fruits of this man’s lifelong suffering. Like the Righteous Job before him, the man born blind was not in any way embittered against the Lord on account of the unfathomable torments he had innocently endured; on the contrary, he patiently proclaimed the righteousness of God, even in the face of the mockery and persecution of the Pharisees. Nor yet did he murmur against them when they unjustly and mercilessly cast him out of the synagogue, and therefore out of all the society of the Jews — including even his own family. And as soon as Christ offered Him the opportunity to know and believe on the Son of God, he leapt at the chance, and at once fell down before Him in gratitude and heartfelt worship.

See the blessed spiritual vision of this man who was born blind! See the incredible fruits born from his patient endurance of suffering! See how this man, who had never read so much as a single word of the divine scriptures, was nevertheless vouchsafed to see God Himself face to face, while the scribes and the Pharisees — for all their wisdom and their learning — looked God in the eye, and could only call Him a demoniac and a sinner.

Sadly, it is no coincidence that the wisest and most learned men in the Gospels were precisely those whose hearts were more blind than any. Immediately after today’s Gospel passage, the Lord said:

For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind. And some of the Pharisees which were with him heard these words, and said unto him, Are we blind also? Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth.

John 9:39-41

Truly, how terrible is such blindness: the blindness which convinces itself that it is, in fact, the most perfect sight. How much such blindness there is among the learned scientists and scholars of the modern age, who have enough knowledge and enough information to routinely perform “miracles” the likes of which the world has never seen, yet who have not enough wisdom to understand even the first thing about the true miracles of life — and who even dare to deride such wisdom and such miracles as nothing more than foolishness.

But, my brothers and sisters, here we must be exceedingly careful. Without any doubt, pagan Rome was just as blind as pagan modernity — yet it was by no means the Romans for whom Christ reserved His harshest rebukes (in point of fact, He barely mentioned them at all). Yet how many times, and with how much vehemence, did He denounce the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and the scribes! It was not those blinded by earthly knowledge whose souls He declared to be in the gravest danger, but those blinded by their own supposed spiritual knowledge.

And today, my dear brothers and sisters, Christ’s divine warnings ought to ring out loudest of all in your ears and in mine: in the ears of all Orthodox Christians, and especially in the ears of us monks and us priests. For truly, “unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required” (Luke 12:48). It is to us that all the riches of Orthodoxy have been given; it is to us that the gates of Heaven have been thrown open wide. But are we, in fact, actually choosing to walk through those gates? Are we truly availing ourselves of such infinite treasuries of grace? Or do we pay mere lip services to these truths and treasures, acknowledging and claiming them for our own outwardly, yet in our heart of hearts forsaking them each day in favor of the cares and desires of this vain and transitory life? Or worse yet: do we take up the spiritual treasures we have been given, only to use them to bludgeon one another in the head, through our judgment and condemnation and pride? If so, then truly we are hypocrites indeed, and find ourselves in a state far more unenviable even that that of the Pharisees: for though we have seen with our eyes and confess with our lips the risen Lord Christ, yet we have not seen fit to give Him the highest place in our hearts. And what form of blindness could possibly be worse than this?

But even so, the mercy and the healing grace of God are never far from any of us. The waters of repentance are always close at hand to wash away even our most grievous sins, just as Christ used the waters of Siloam to wash away an entire lifetime of blindness in today’s Gospel story. And truly, today’s Gospel assures us beyond any doubt that there is no form of blindness which is any obstacle at all to seeing God: in the end, only our own stubborn refusal can possibly prevent Him from opening our eyes to all the fullness of His divine glory.

So let none of us by any means despair. Rather, let us humbly acknowledge all our past blindness and error and sin, and let us then press forward, entrusting ourselves — with sincere repentance and heartfelt faith — to the infinite mercies of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, for truly: “In Him [is] life; and the life [is] the light of men” (John 1:4). And let us call out to Him with our whole hearts in the words of the kontakion of today’s feast: “Having the eyes of my soul blinded, I come to Thee, O Christ, like the man blind from birth, and with repentance I cry to Thee: Thou art the bright Light of those in darkness.”

Christ is risen!

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