Labor, Virtue and the Lives of the Saints - A Homily for the Sunday of the Paralytic (2023)

Labor, Virtue and the Lives of the Saints - A Homily for the Sunday of the Paralytic (2023) - Holy Cross Monastery



The life of an Orthodox Christian is not like the life of any other person. The life of an Orthodox Christian is lived within the cycle of the Divine Services of the Church which revolve around Pascha, the feast of feasts. The forty days which follow Pascha are termed the Paschal season. Traditionally, converts were received into the Church through Baptism on Pascha.  As the Lenten season prepared catechumens for the illumination of Baptism, so the Paschal season continues their instruction through the reading of the Gospel of John in full and the Acts of the Apostles. Moreover, the Sundays of Paschatide are instructive to the newly illumined because of the frequent references to baptism.


This Third Sunday of Pascha is the “Sunday of the Paralytic”, wherein we read in the Gospel of John of a certain infirmed man who laid by the pool, called Bethesda, for thirty-eight years, with the hope that once the angel stirred these waters, as often happened, he would have someone to carry him into those waters so that he would be healed. However, for the past thirty-eight years, no one had helped him. The Apostle John says that around the pool lay a “great multitude” of the sick, be they blind, lame, paralyzed or infirmed by some other disease or ailment, therefore it was never going to be easy to be the first one into the pool to be healed, following the angel’s activity. However, Christ comes not to just anyone who lay around this pool, but to this paralytic man specifically.

The Gospel author writes,

When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, “Wilt thou be made whole?” The impotent man answered him, “Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me.” Jesus saith unto him, “Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.”



Notice here the perseverance of this infirmed man, but not only his perseverance but the humility which accompanied it. For we find two things at play here, namely, it had been for thirty-eight years that this paralyzed child of God lay beside the pool with continual hope of someone bringing him into those waters to be healed of his infirmity. Moreover, it had been for thirty-eight years that no one, no mother, no father, no brother, no sister, no relative, no friend, no servant, no countryman, no stranger, no priest, no Jew, no Gentile, had come to his aid.

He sat by the pool every day, hoping for healing, hoping that someone would help him to be the first into the waters because day after day he was unable to do this. Persistently, for thirty-eight years he tries to be the first in the water but fails. And for thirty-eight years he hopes someone will help him and nobody does.

Christ approaches, and no one else has, and He addresses him, “Wilt thou be made whole?” How does this man respond? Is it in frustration? Does he mumble under his breath? Does he question why He did not come sooner? Is he short with Christ? Does he ask what He wants? Does he beg Him not to mock him? He does not know that this is the Messiah. He does not know that this stranger has the power to heal him. The water is not being stirred presently as though Christ is about to bring him into those healing waters. Listen to the mildness, the humility, how gentle he is to this questioning stranger: “Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me.” Oh, that I would say that to Christ, that we would say that when our prayers for anything aren’t answered immediately. Should not this example put us who are slothful to shame? Nothing dulled his perseverance and no circumstance stifled that zeal.



The image of this paralytic is the image of what we can be, that is no matter what we think of our circumstances, our destitution, our failed health, our poverty, our infirmity, our failures, our woes, our pain, our frustrations, our spiritual immaturity, all can be borne up in patience and hope while waiting on the Lord to come to our aid. This state, but more truly, this virtue, is achievable for each of us as Christians and if that were not so we might as well give up right now. To attain any amount of any of the virtues is laborious but engenders hope, while the inverse, the pleasures of sin, the passions and wickedness, are immediate but engender the greatest of miseries, and ultimately condemnation.

St. John Chrysostom, in addressing this theme writes,

For the pleasure of wickedness is short, but the pain lasting; of virtue, on the contrary, the joy grows not old, the labor is but for a season. Virtue even before the crowns are distributed animates her workman, and feeds him with hopes; vice even before the time of vengeance punishes him who works for her, wringing and terrifying his conscience, and making it apt to imagine all evils.[1]

His Eminence, Bishop Irenei of London and Western Europe makes a very pertinent observation regarding suffering and pain when he notes that this question has been with us from time immemorial and answers have been offered by a myriad of philosophers, theologians and all others, however perhaps it is best to confront suffering as not being a problem which needs a “solution,” but to approach suffering as a “mystery,” not something to be addressed, accounted for or “solved” [although all of these categories offer significant answers and insights] but something which through one’s experience become redemptive, an experience intended to build us up into something greater.[2]

Virtue and the building up of the soul, and the creation unto a new being is not instant, and, as a matter of fact, is not even finished in our own lifetime, but even moreso, does not come without labour, extremely hard labour and work on one’s self. The Apostle Peter describes Lot, the brother of Abraham, who dwelt in Sodom amidst the “filthy conversation of the wicked,” which the Apostle said “vexed” this holy man, and whose righteous soul bore with their unlawful deeds day after day, and the Apostle calls him “just” and then says, “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations,”(2 Peter 2.8,9).

Again, St. John Chrysostom, addressing the labour that is involved in growing the virtues affirms that it is those who struggle who will overcome, as opposed to those who have a natural disposition towards labour do not rise as easily. He writes,

Even now I can show you many who naturally hate intercourse with women, and avoid conversation with them as impure; shall we then call these chaste, shall we crown these, tell me, and proclaim them victors? By no means. Chastity is self-restraint, and the mastering [of] pleasures which fight [us], just as in war the trophies are most honorable when the contest is violent, not when no one raises a hand against us. Many are by their very nature passionless; shall we call these good tempered? Not at all.[3]



For thirty-eight years, the paralytic had no one to bring him into the healing waters, and for thirty-eight years he never gave up hope, remaining near and not abandoning his desire and goal.

Although this Gospel was written almost two thousand years ago, the story does not speak to a time of irrelevance and the significance of its theme did not die after its author penned it because as the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters before the creation of the world, so does this same Spirit move within the sons and daughters of God who dwell in the Church, their natural abode. And that is not only us, but all the faithful who have lived up to the present time, and this is the value of reading the Lives of the Saints, in order that we may be convinced of God’s continual presence in the Church and our ability to be the paralytic and wait on God for thirty-eight years and by His grace acquire the virtue of perseverance and humility while waiting on Him.

St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain, in his “Prologue” to the Evergetinos (a work which is an amalgam of lives and sayings of holy people, lay and monastic alike) writes about these Lives and addresses what was achieved by these saints, further noting that what they pursued was a philosophy which was higher and more superior to any other system because it was one in which virtue was obtained. He writes,

It was not sufficient for them to acquire merely a disposition to virtue, or perchance to experience virtue haphazardly – for this anyone can do. Through force of habit, which became second nature, as it were, they had to become fully integrated and develop in these virtues. These men, through sweat and prolonged ascetic labor, developed these virtues… Though assailed by manifold temptations, both human and demonic, though emaciated through great feats of abstinence and other physical rigors, after running all the courses of an arduous race, they achieved all virtues and attained a ‘scientific’ knowledge thereof. They made an addendum to the Gospel which is especially noteworthy for those with spiritual knowledge, and through the eagerness of their free choice, they surpassed the commandments given by God to man.[4]

Or, as the Byzantine polymath Michael Psellos notes, seven hundred years earlier, “the literary commemoration of the saints is the last chapter of the works that confirm the gospel message.”[5]



During these light days of Paschal tide, dear brothers and sisters, Fathers, and Mother, may we continue to labour for these virtues which produce the most light in our souls, by the grace of God. May we not give up hope in our struggles, nor in our goals. May the experience of Pascha, that Paschal joy, that joy which St. Seraphim of Sarov continually manifested to all that sought him out, may it animate all of our thoughts, our hopes, our desires, our whole life, and because of the resurrection of Christ, may we take up our bed and walk away from the sins and passions which so easily ensnare us.



[1] “Homilies on the Gospel of John,” in Nicene, Post-Nicene Fathers, ed. Philip Schaff. (Hendrickson: Peabody, 2001), 127, Homily XXXVI.

[2] Cf. Strength in Weakness. (Stafford: St. Paisius Monastery, 2020), 33-35.

[3] “Homilies on the Gospel of John,” 126.

[4] The Evergetinos: The Complete Text, Archbishop Chrysostomos and Hieromonk Patapios, trans. (Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 2008)1:xxxiii-xxxiv.

[5] Michael Psellos on Literature and Art: A Byzantine Perspective on Aesthetics. Eds. Charles Barber and Stratis Papaioannou (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame, 2017), 193.

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