On Sunday, May 21, 2023, the 6th Sunday of Pascha, His Eminence Archbishop Benjamin preached the homily on John 9:1-38 at Holy Trinity Cathedral, San Francisco.
The Prophet Isaiah said: “Then shall they eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall hear; then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the stammerers shall be made plain” (Isaiah 35:5-6). St. John Chrysostom points out that the ancient prophecy not only indicates that God will sojourn here among us, but it announces the signs and the time of His coming. The giving of sight to the blind was one of the things the Messiah would do, one of seven signs in the gospel that show He is the promised one,the Lord: changing the water into wine, healing the boy at Capernaum, healing the paralyzed man at Bethesda, the feeding of the 5,000, His walking on the water and here, giving sight to a man who was born blind. The final sign was the raising of Lazarus from the dead.
All of the Gospel readings of the Sundays that fall between Pascha and Pentecost,are what remain as part of a very ancient and venerable custom of the early Christian Church connected with the teaching of the catechumens, those who were newly-baptized during the Vesperal Liturgy of Great and Holy Saturday. These days, it is the usual practice. for us to spend weeks, if not months, educating catechumens BEFORE they receive baptism. But there was a time when the catechumens did not even hear the Creed until the day of their baptism. Their pre- baptismal instructions were centered on the Old Testament. Only after they had been baptized were they even allowed to attend the second part of the. Liturgy; what we now call the Liturgy of the faithful. You will hear an echo of the dismissal of the catechumens that remains in the Liturgy as the catechumens are told to depart just before the Cherubic Hymn in each Liturgy.
The Gospel lectionary for the post-Paschal period is therefore, focused on the instruction the new members of the Church, selecting specific passages from the Gospel of St. John that focus on the themes of water, enlightenment, worship in truth and wisdom, the intention of the Church being to explain what had happened to them on the Paschal night.
This particular Gospel, being part of that cycle, relates the story of a man, blind from birth, who receives his sight from Jesus. Imagine how this might have resonated in the minds of those who had been pagans from birth, in a sense spiritually blind from birth. At their baptism they were enlightened and given a new spiritual insight, as though they had been given eyes newly fashioned. They saw things anew, just as the man born blind saw the world for the first time after Jesus had anointed his eyes. There is something else here. You will remember Jesus mixes His saliva with the earth, making clay, and anoints the man’s eyes with it. This is reminiscent of the Jewish ritual anointing of the High Priest. Moses Was commanded by God to make chrism, anointing oil, at Sinai. That oil, made only once by Moses, was kept in the Ark of the Covenant and used to anoint the eyes of each High Priest until the time the Ark was taken out of the Temple prior to the Babylonian conquest and exile. The eyes of the High Priest were anointed with this holy oil or chrism to give him the ability to see spiritual things, to enlighten him. And, his eyes were, interestingly, anointed in the sign of an old Hebrew letter that looked very much like a cross or “x”. This anointing made the High Priest one of the “sons of God” and gave him the right to enter the Holy of Holies, as one of the angels, and stand before the Cherubic Throne, God’s footstool on earth. And each of the newly baptized had been anointed with the Holy Chrism after baptism and made one of the “sons of God”, part of what St. Peter calls a royal priesthood and holy nation, part of the Body of Christ. So here we can see how the catechumens were led to understand how they had been enlightened on the Paschal night, they, having had their own eyes anointed like the man born blind.
So, each of us here who have been baptized and chrismated have been given new eyes and have been made sons of God -whether we were baptized as adults or children.
The theme of baptism and cleansing is also to be found here. The man born blind, after being anointed with the clay Jesus had made, was told to go and wash in the pool of Siloam. Now, he could have washed in many places, but Jesus told him specifically to go to the Pool of Siloam (which means “sent”). The Pool of Siloam was fed by the waters of the Gihon spring and was associated with the memory of the Prophet Isaiah who was martyred nearby and buried close by the spring. The early Christians identified themselves closely with Isaiah. And the Gospel of Matthew frequently and carefully shows how Jesus fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecies. And so, we hear an echo of the prophecy of Isaiah:
“Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.”
Finally, just as with the paralyzed man two Sundays ago, Jesus performed this miracle on the Sabbath day. One gets the impression sometimes Jesus only healed on the Sabbath day just to annoy the scribes and Pharisees. And this was certainly no exception. It is yet another occasion where Jesus shows himself to be the Lord of the Sabbath. And, of course, the ultimate Sabbath miracle, the miracle for which the Sabbath was created, was Christ’s Sabbath rest in the Tomb, in Sheol, where He destroyed the power of death.
This week on Wednesday we will say “good-bye” to Pascha, as we give it back. Let us, however, keep this feast of feasts in our hearts and remember that every Sunday is a celebration of Pascha. The Lord’s Day and the Sabbath are.forever linked. Did you know that Russian priests when they were ordained signed a promise to serve the liturgy every Saturday and Sunday- to keep both the Sabbath and Lord’s Day holy? Let us do the same and, so, not allow the Paschal flame to be extinguished in our hearts.