“Bless and curse not!” says St. Paul in today’s Epistle. We see both the fulfillment of, and the disobedience to, this command in today’s Gospel. The simple-hearted multitude fulfill it; the hard-hearted and envious scribes transgress it. Christ said to the paralytic that his sins were forgiven and commanded him to walk again. The scribes—whose entire lives and careers were the study of the Law of God; who should have been the first to perceive the Living Embodiment of Scripture alive before them in Christ, God Incarnate; they—muttered in their hearts that Christ was blaspheming, perplexed that a man uttered words fit only for God. But the simple-hearted multitude, seeing the miracle of a paralytic suddenly healed, leaping, “marveled and glorified God Who had given such power unto men,” having perceived that only God could do such wonders.
“Bless and curse not,” says the Apostle. Herein lies the essence of our whole Orthodox Faith, Life and Worship. This is the essence and guiding rule of our Orthodox hymnody. Eulogizing the Saints of God, it blesses them and glorifies them. It speaks not of any faults that may have been in them. It speaks not of them as common men, but as gods by grace, transformed into all-pure members of Christ by the divine power and energy of the Holy Spirit, adopted sons of the Father.
“Bless and curse not!” This is the essence and guiding rule of our Orthodox iconography. Painting the Saints of God, the iconographer does not seek to reproduce a corruptible earthly image, a simple portrait. They do not paint them with glasses if they wore glasses, nor maimed if they were maimed; but in their future resurrected state, perfectly whole, deified, thus immersing us in the reality of that blessed future mode of life.
“Bless and curse not!” This is the essence and guiding rule of our Orthodox hagiography. The Lives of the Saints do not seek first and foremost a historical biography, a simple account of human existence, although they contain this. They seek to paint in words the divinely-lived life of God’s Saints. Sometimes they leave out their all-too-human defects. Sometimes not. If they leave them out, they are not lying or falsifying the truth. But, just as one who eulogizes a departed loved one, or just as one introduces another before an audience, so the hagiographers praise their subject in humility, seeking to impress within the souls of others the graces and virtues of the transfigured Saint, that all may zealously seek the infinite heights of the life in God, Who transcends all the heavens of angels.
“Bless and curse not!” St. Symeon the New Theologian teaches this as a rule of life for our ascetic struggle against the passions, saying that we should strive to see and bless all as angels of God, and see only ourselves as sinners. Such is the struggle of the soul of one who desires the purification which illumines one with the divine vision of God—seeing God in all and all through the eyes of God. This ascetic theology seeks to make us into spiritual and moral hymnographers, iconographers and hagiographers: to make us find and bless even the smallest good in men; to see the image, the icon, of God in them; to publish their good deeds and to mercifully overlook their sins, just as the Most-Merciful Christ Who died for all does.
This Orthodox understanding of the ineffaceable image of God in every man is depicted in some icons, such as the icon here of our beloved patron St. Panteleimon. Looking at the faces of the Saint’s torturers, one will notice that they are meek, filled with innocent simplicity, not fierce with wicked deformity. Although these men may have had such evil passion in their hearts and faces, nonetheless, this iconographic tradition of the Church shows forth—not only the likeness of God which shines forth in the Saints who actualized the reality of God’s image in themselves, but also—the inner reality of the potentiality of every man; that they are made in the image of God and able to be conformed to God’s likeness.
“Bless and curse not!” Such words are spoken by St. Paul through the inspiration and example of Christ Himself Who taught: “Love your enemies, do good to those who do evil to you, bless those who curse you and pray for those who abuse you!” Such He spoke, and such He did upon the Cross when He—being crucified in cold blood, mocked and blasphemed, by His own people and creation—cried out: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!”
What sign of love for one’s enemies is greater than this? What greater good could one do to those who do evil to him than this intercession of the Only Son with the Father? What blessing upon those who curse could be better than this? For, this is to truly pray for those who mistreat one! For, there has never been a greater evil, a deeper chasm of lovelessness, a more wicked curse, and a more grave sin of abuse than the killing of God Incarnate, the spilling of His precious and all-pure blood, and the blasphemy and cursing of Blessedness Himself Who seeks to bless all with His grace and divine life!
“Bless and curse not!” What power such blessing has! For, it was this blessing and prayer for forgiveness of the God-Man that softened the hardness of St. Dismas’ heart. St. Matthew and St. Mark tell us that both thieves—the one on the right and the one on the left of the Lord—at first mocked Christ with the people. But St. Luke says that the Good Thief confessed his own sinfulness and Christ’s sinlessness. When did he do this? Right after Christ’s prayer for forgiveness. There is no contradiction between the four-part harmony of the Holy Evangelists. The Good Thief repented, came to believe in Christ, confessed Him as Lord, and sought of Him eternal blessedness after he was transformed from his blindness by the long-suffering love and blessing of the Man-Loving Christ.
Such is the power of love! Such is the grace and divinely-transformative nature of blessing! Such is what we see in the life of St. Macarius the Great, whose name itself means blessedness. It is told that he and his disciple were on the road. He sent his disciple along in front of him. His disciple saw a pagan priest, and said to him: “Hey, you demon, where are you going?” The pagan beat him half to death and then took off running. St. Macarius then met him along the way and saw him running and said: “I hope you are well, I hope you are well, O weary laborer!” The pagan, shocked, stopped and asked: “What good do you see in me that you greet me so?” St. Macarius said: “I have seen you toiling, but all in vain.” The pagan said: “I have been touched by your greeting and realize that you are on God’s side. But another, an evil monk, met me and insulted me, and so I beat him almost to death.” St. Macarius perceived that it was his disciple. And the priest then fell at his feet and begged the Saint: “I will not let you go until you have made me a monk.” So, the two of them went to the Saint’s disciple and took him to the nearby Church. Then the pagan was baptized, made a monk, and made many other pagans Christians. So, Abba Macarius said: “One evil word can make even the good evil; while one good word makes even the evil good.”
What a blessed story! What a holy image! What a wonderful miracle! Such a miracle is equal to that revealed today in the Gospel. For the Lord raised a paralytic man and blotted out all his sins by one blessed word. And, whole-heartedly believing in Christ and thus doing works equal to His (even as the Lord testified that many who believe on Him would do), St. Macarius, through one word of blessing, raised a darkened soul paralyzed by the demons and washed him pure from all his sins by his gracious love.
Such is the way with all the Saints! Such is seen in the Royal Martyrs whom we have just celebrated. They were so radiantly calm, so meekly courageous, so loving and courteous, to their guards and persecutors, that they softened their hard hearts, made them more human, drawing out the hidden virtue of these corrupt men also made in the image of God. Being truly the salt of the earth, they drew out the life-giving waters of the God-like nature of those dried up by bitter sin. Such is the power of Christ! Such is the way of the Saints! Such is the teaching of the Church! Such is the only path for us today who are surrounded by wickedness, corruption, insanity, lawlessness, heresy, apostasy.
“Bless and curse not!” Such is the all-encompassing rule of the life of Christ! If our brother insults or offends us, then, blessing him, we will make good come out of evil. If we hear tell of godless politicians, then, calling down upon them God’s blessing through prayer, we will expend the energy and gift of our thought, zeal and word in behalf of the enlightenment and salvation of their souls, instead of cursing and criticizing them, doing no good for them or ourselves. If we hear of heretical and apostate leaders in the Church, then, begging God’s blessing on them, hoping for their conversion, praying with warm zeal and humility, we will touch their souls from afar and render our own more holy and Christ-like.
“Bless and curse not!” Let us seek this mode of life which is so divine and powerful, and yet summed up in only four short words. Such a mode of life was sought out by our Holy Father St. Sisoes, whose memory we celebrate today. Once, he confidently affirmed: “Take heart! For here I have been for 30 years and am no longer pleading with God about my sins. But this is what I say when I pray: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, protect me from my tongue,’ for every day even until now I fall because of it and commit sin.”
St. John Climacus, in his chapter on judgment and slander, says that sins of the tongue are even found in otherwise very spiritual men. St. Sisoes spoke no evil word, but still saw as St. John Chrysostom that his mouth and tongue were too polluted for the Holy Word to touch it in Holy Communion. How much more, then, should we pray for the purity of our thought and word, seeing that even the humble Sisoes and the Golden-Mouth John saw nothing golden in their mouth?
If we purify our heart and word through humble prayer, our heart, instead of a source of curses, shall become the divine resting-place of the Most-Gracious Dove-Like Spirit; while our word, instead of a wounding sword, will become a divine key unlocking the flood-gates of the heavenly mercies of Christ’s boundless depths of compassions upon all mankind, upon this fallen world lying in filth and sin. May God grant us to truly pray and to truly live, by the grace of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit is glorified, blessed and worshipped unto the ages of ages. Amen.