Tag Archives: Acts 16:16-34

Witnesses to Beauty

Sunday, May 13 (O.S., April 30), 2018: Sixth Sunday of Pascha; Sunday of the Blind Man; Holy Apostle James, the brother of St. John the Theologian (44); St. Donatus, bishop of Euroea (387); Uncovering of the relics of Hieromartyr Basil, bishop of Amasea (322). Martyr Maximus.

Epistle: Acts 16:16-34
Gospel: John 9:1-38

Christ is Risen!

St Paul tells the Church at Ephesus that they are to speak “the truth in love.” He tells them this so that they might not be “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men” and “in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting.”

And they are to speak the truth in love so that they

…may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love (see Ephesians 4:14-16, NKJV).

We need to pay close attention to what the Apostle says here.

The command to speak “the truth in love” is not something we do to draw others to Christ. Speaking “the truth in love” is essential for our own salvation, own growth in Christ and spiritual maturity.

Compare this to the idea that, as I’ve heard more than one Orthodox Christian say, “The most loving thing I can do is to tell someone the truth.” Did you catch the difference?

Paul says that for your own salvation and to become more like Christ, let love guide your words. This is different from the rather crass assumption that my words are loving because they are true and I’m telling you something for your own good.

The naked expression of the truth is not loving. Far from it. It is simply a means of gaining power over others by shaming them. Rarely, if ever, are the people who say the most loving thing you can do is to tell someone the truth open to such “love” themselves.

Look at the reading today from Acts.

The slave girl is saying something which is indubitably true. St Paul and his companions “are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” And yet, as events unfold, we discover that while what is said is true, it is said not “in love” but because of demonic possession. The girl says something true in the service of extending the power of demons.

Her owners, by the way, are fine with this. They are happy to see this girl enslaved to a demon because it makes them rich. They are willing to grow wealthy by enslaving not only the girl’s body but also her soul.

And in all this, she tells the truth but she does so without love.

Compare the situation of the slave and her owners with what happens at the end of today’s reading.

A “great earthquake” opens all the doors of the prison freeing all the prisoner. Because of this, the jailer is prepared to commit suicide rather than face the consequences of allowing the prisoners to escape.

But what does Paul do?

At the cost of his own freedom, he remains in his cell with Silas and cries out to his jailer: “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.”

Speaking the “the truth in love” is salvific because it puts the good of my neighbor before my own. To speak “the truth in love” means that I sacrifice myself for you. And it is this sacrifice for others that join us ever closer together in Christ and which fosters our spiritual maturity.

What, though, does it mean–concretely–to speak “the truth in love”? We get a glimpse in today’s Gospel.

While the text says Jesus restored the man’s sight, this isn’t strictly speaking true. The man was, after all, born blind. He didn’t live in darkness because, never having seen light, he had no understanding of its absence.

While he felt the sun on his face, he never saw its light. He felt the wind but never saw trees bend. He felt the rain but never saw clouds.

And then is one amazing moment–and for the first time in his life–the man born blind saw the beauty of creation. And he saw this beauty not gradually but in an instant!

He saw the sun he only felt.

He saw the trees bend in the wind.

He saw the clouds that carried the rain.

All around him and all at once, he saw the beauty of creation. And, in that same instant, he saw the face of Jesus, of God become Man.

To speak “the truth in love” is to heal the blindness of the human heart. It is to reveal to others a beauty that, like the blind man, they could not even imagine.

To reveal this beauty to you, I must first see it you, in creation, in myself and in God. That which is True, and for that matter what is Just and Good, is Beautiful.

And because Truth is one, if I can’t–or won’t–see the beauty in one part of creation, I can’t see the beauty elsewhere. If I can’t see beauty here, I can’t see it there; if I can’t see it in you, I can’t see it in myself and I certainly can’t see it in God.

Or rather, I fail to see the beauty around me and in me because I fail to see it in God Who is the Uncreated Source of all the is Good, True, Just and yes Beautiful.

Why does beauty matter? Because it is in the nature of beauty, of beautiful things, to attract us. To speak “the truth in love” is to make manifest not simply the beauty of the Gospel but of the person to whom we speak.

And. as I said, I can’t do this unless I have grasped something of the beauty of God and creation, of my neighbor and myself.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! God has called us to reveal beauty to the world. We are here, in this small and poor room today, for no other purpose. This is why we concern ourselves with, among other things, not only being the Church but building a church. So that we can through our words and deeds reveal the Beauty of God to the world.

May God bring to completion the good work He has started in us.

Christ is Risen!

+Fr Gregory

Homily: Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit

Sunday, June 5, 2016: 6th Sunday of Pascha; Sunday of the Blind Man. Hieromartyr Dorotheus, Bishop of Tyre (ca. 362). Translation of the Relics of Bl. Igor (George), tonsured Gabriel, Grand Prince of Chernígov and Kiev (1150). Bl. Constantine, Metropolitan of Kiev (1159). Repose of St. Theodore Yaroslavich, older brother of St. Alexander Nevsky (Novgorod—1233). Finding of the Relics of Ven. Bassian and Jonah, Monks of Pertomsk (Solovétsky Monastery—1599). Martyrs Marcian, Nicander, Hyperechius, Appolonius, Leonidas, Arius, Gorgias, Selenias, Irenius, and Pambo, of Egypt (4th c.). Ven. Theodore the Wonderworker, Hermit of the Jordan (ca. 6th c.). Ven. Anubius, Confessor and Anchorite, of Egypt (5th c.). Ven. Abba Dorotheus of Palestine (6th c.). St. Peter of Korcha (Albanian).

Epistle: Acts 16:16-34
Gospel: John 9:1-38

Jesus tells us that all sins can be forgiven, except those against the Holy Spirit. “Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation” (Mark 3:28-29, NJKV). He says what He says, St Mark tells us because the Pharisees had said: “He has an unclean spirit” (v. 30).

This is very much the situation we encounter in the Gospel this morning. Jesus stands accused by the Pharisees of being a sinner because He made “made clay” and used it to open the eyes of the man born blind (John 9:14). Given their way, the Pharisees would “quench the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19) either by trying to prevent Jesus from acting or, as is the case here, by punishing those who would believe in Jesus is the Christ (John 9:22).

What the Pharisees tried to do, successfully in some cases, is intimidate people to keep them from following Jesus. The enemies of God have tried to do throughout the history of the Church. If persecution hasn’t been constant neither has it been wholly absent from the life of the Church from the time of the Apostles to the present day. While the mechanism has changed, the powerful of this world will always try to get people to deny the evidence of grace and so turn their backs on God.

But there is another way in which we might be made to deny God; we see this in the reading from Acts of the Apostles.

St Luke tells us that as he and the Apostle Paul “went to prayer … a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling. This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, ‘These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.'” This went on, he says “for many days” until finally “Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And he came out that very hour” (Acts 16:16-18).

The Venerable Bede says that the girl’s “confession is not voluntary.” Rather she is compelled to speak by a “deceitful spirit.” The demon speaks “under the compulsion of fear of the Holy Spirit” since “not daring any longer to hide its darkness in the presence of the light” (“Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles,” 16:17 in ACCS: NT vol V: Acts, p. 203). The demon cries out here for the same reason the demons cried out in the presence of Jesus during His earthly ministry. They are tormented by the Divine Presence. “Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!” (Luke 4:34, NJKV)

Simply telling the truth isn’t enough. If it were, then Paul wouldn’t have silenced the demon.

St John Chrysostom wrestles with this issue. He asks, “Why did the demon utter these words and why did Paul forbid him?” He answers his own question and says that “If Paul had admitted his testimony, the demon would have deceived many of the believers since he was accepted by Paul.” The demon would have used the Apostle’s “agreement for the purpose of destruction” (“Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles,” 35 in ACCS: NT vol V: Acts, p. 203). Like Jesus, Paul knew that what the demon did, he did “to confound the order of things, to snatch away the apostles’ dignity and to persuade many to pay attention to him.” The saint goes on to say that if this “had happened, [the demons] would have appeared trustworthy from then on and introduced their own designs.” And so, “To prevent this and to forestall deceit” the Apostle silences the demons “even though the speak the truth, so that no one should pay attention to their lies” (“Homilies on 1 Corinthians” 29.3 in ACCS: NT vol V: Acts, p. 203).

This second way of quench the Spirit is often gentler, subtitler, than outright threats. And this is what makes it all the more dangerous since what is professed is not the Gospel but only some portion of it.

We can easily multiple examples from currents events of immorality and injustice being justified by an appeal to the Gospel. But like the demon in Acts, while what is said is true, the truth is only partial. The demon—rightly—identifies Paul as a servant “of the Most High God” who proclaims “the way of salvation.” And so we hear today that God is merciful, God is forgiving and that we ought not to judge others. All true but only partially.

Yes, God is merciful but also just.

Yes, God forgives, but I must “go and sin no more” in order to no longer “walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” (see John 8:1-12, NKJV).

As for judging, I am not commanded to not judge but to judge wisely, generously since “with what judgment you judge, you will be judged.” At the same time, I am obligated to “not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces” (see Matthew 7:1-6).

My brothers and sisters in Christ, let us pray for courage so we are not intimidated by the threats of those who, like the Pharisees, by their threats and “strengthless presumption” would seek to distract us from following Christ. And let us ask for wisdom so that, like Paul we can discern when Satan tempts us disguised as “an angel of light” (1 Corinthians 11:14, NKJV). Let us take to heart Paul’s warning to Timothy:

… know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 3:1-7, NKJV).

As we now draw closer to the Feast of Holy Pentecost let us ask the Father to pour out on us an even greater share of His Spirit so that we can follow His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ in faith, hope and love and be His witnesses to all the world!

Christ is Risen!

+Fr Gregory