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Healing on the Sabbath

He comes seeking our healing

27th Sunday after Pentecost / St. James the Persian; Kursk-Root Icons of the Mother of God / Eph. 6.10-17; Luke 13.10-17

F/S/HS. Brothers and sisters, last Sunday I began my homily with the joyous news, the astounding proclamation of our church fathers and mothers: That God is for us; God is not against us; that God comes to us and seeks communion with us, and our communion with Him; He comes to us at Nativity as the Christ-Child; and He returns to indwell us as Holy Spirit following our Lord’s Crucifixion.  All because He fashioned us in His image and desires a loving relationship with us.

During His earthly ministry Jesus repeatedly reveals Himself as for us.  For those who are sick, who are lost, who are discouraged, Jesus seeks their healing.  So much so that time and again He violates social and religious norms and customs:  He heals us on the Sabbath.  He lets those sick with leprosy draw near to Him.  To the thief hanging on the cross next to Him, sensing this thief’s honorable heart, He tells him that he will see paradise—that very day.

He allows women to touch Him in public, and He touches them, just as He does in this morning’s Gospel, where, while in a synagogue on a Sabbath morning. He calls a woman to Himself who has a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years.  He reaches out and He touches this woman.  Her infirmity is miraculously healed. 

Our Lord’s only requirement is that we, for our part, turn towards Him and receive Him, that we follow Him, that we strive to love Him, and that we, like Him, break down the barriers that keep us from loving others.  And now abide faith, hope, and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love (1 Cor. 13.13).  Without love for others, dear ones, we don’t stand a chance with God!  God will not be for us, where we are without love.

So it is too with the lives of our saints, who are little Christs amongst us: lovers of God and lovers of people.  Look at any of the men and women adorning the walls of our temple, who ever-yearned to draw near to God, to be in communion and union with Him.  And how they loved others.  How they looked for opportunities to help others draw near to our Lord. 

And not only did they love unconditionally during their earthly life.  Following their death, they, like God’s Holy Spirit, come to us in mysterious ways.  They pray for us.  Their presence in our lives is consolation and balm to our souls.  They are Christ’s timeless ambassadors to us.

I want to share an experience with you about one of these God-loving and people-loving saints, an experience that has left a rather indelible and consoling mark on my soul; an experience richly mysterious in nature.  The experience happened four years ago, at this very time of year.

Since then I’ve hesitated sharing it with you.  Both I and the person with whom I shared this experience don’t want to draw any attention to ourselves.  The experience—the more distance I’ve got from it—was not at all about ourselves.  It was an experience having to do with all of you; having to do with a particular saint’s love for you and for this hurting world of ours; an experience at the heart of which is God’s love for us and for the world wherein He gave His only begotten Son.  Which is why I’ve decided to share the experience with you this morning.   

It was a Sunday during Matins, again four years ago.  Deacon John and I were nearing the end of Proskemede: the service of preparation at the prothesis table, where the priest and deacon remove the Lamb of God from a loaf of prosphora and place it on the patton; a service that concludes with the priest commemorating all of you and a host of those reposed. 

The living and the dead—all of you are a crumb on the patton, sitting just below that Lamb that will be Consecrated into the Body and Blood of our Lord during Divine Liturgy, placed in the Chalice, and given you as divine nourishment for your body and soul.

My eyes were closed that morning, four years ago.  I was at that moment naming the dead.  There came a tap on my shoulder.  I turned.  It was Frdn. John.  His eyes were wide open with surprise.  He wasn’t looking at me but instead out in front of me, towards the chalice and patton.  Fr. Daniel, what is that?  Dn. John whispered quietly.  What is what? I asked, still looking at him.  Look … look, he said.

 

I turned and looked.  A brief pause here.  You may know that the Lamb has a cross atop it, and hence four parts: two on the top and two on the bottom.  The upper two parts of this cross: The left side reads IC and the right side XC.  Together these translate as Jesus Christ.  During the Liturgy, just after the Consecration, the priest takes the IC portion and carefully places it in the Chalice, saying as he does the fullness of the Holy Spirit.  The right side, the XC portion, is what the clergy commune from.

The lower two parts of the cross: The left side reads NI, and the right side KA … NIKA, which translates as Conquers.  So, collectively IC/XC and NIKA read Jesus Christ Conquers.  These lower two parts—the NI and KA—are then placed into the Chalice.  Significantly, they are designated as those parts for the faithful, for you, to Commune from.  

I turned to look out in front of me, towards the Lamb, in the direction that Dn. John was looking.  The lower right side of this Lamb—the KA portion, one of the portions given for all of you—was flashing with light, like tiny little lightning bolts flashing up and down that KA portion of the Lamb.  I stared in silence for several seconds.  Then turned to Dn. John.  O my, Father, what is that … what is happening? And from Dn. John’s lips, the only appropriate response: I have no idea, Father.

Perhaps 30 seconds passed.  Those tiny lightning bolts continued.  I turned to the left and then the right, and then entirely around, certain that some stream of light—perhaps sunlight, perhaps light coming from one of our electric lights—was streaming down upon this KA portion of the Lamb and causing this most compelling mystery.  But neither I nor Dn. John could see any such light source streaming from anywhere.

I reached out and cupped my hands and placed them over the top of the entire Lamb, in an effort to determine what angle the light was coming from.  The flashes continued.  That light was coming from within the KA—there was no external light source!  I pulled my hands away.  For the next couple of minutes that dance of light continued.  And then gradually faded away.  Dn. John and I stood there in silent amazement, awe-struck, not at all knowing what to make of what was happening before us.  We said very little to one another.  Nothing needed to be said.  Words would have cheapened this most sacred of holy moments.

Five minutes later Subdeacon Thomas entered into the Altar in preparation for Divine Liturgy, did his prostrations, and came over to me to receive a blessing.  Blessing him, he leaned towards me and whispered tenderly, Did you hear the newsNo, what news, I asked.  Elder Ephraim, he reposed several hours ago, late last night.  Instantly Dn. John and I knew that there was some connection, some correlation between that dancing light on the Lamb, and Elder Ephraim’s repose.

Three days later—with my son-in-law Jeremiah—we were in Arizona, at St. Anthony’s Monastery, where 7000 persons—Hierarchs, priests and deacons, monks and nuns, and laity—gathered for Elder Ephraim’s funeral.  After the funeral one of the nuns from St. Johns came over to greet me.  Tears streamed down her face.  He’s free from his body now, Fr. Daniel.  Free to go out into all the world and be Christ’s healing presence to all of us.  He’s no longer constrained; he’s free to move about and go wherever he wants, be with whoever he wants; free to love everyone in their time of need, and to share the love of God with everone who will listen.

Instantly her words cast me back three days earlier, to that light dancing on that KA portion of the Lamb, the portion given to all of you who come forward to Commune of Christ’s precious Body and Blood, for the remission of sins and unto life everlasting.  And it came to me most sublimely and most powerfully—one of God’s holy ones, Elder Ephraim, was being entirely given to those of you the faithful: Given to you in the form of his prayers and his love for all of you, and for all of the world.  His presence, so bound to Christ, was in the Chalice that Sunday morning!

This past Thursday was the fourth anniversary of Elder Ephraim’s repose.  Early that morning Rd. Theophan Lewis wrote me and included a picture—an icon on the wall of the tomb wherein Elder Ephraim is buried, there at St. Anthony’s.  May we have his intercessions before the Throne of Christ the King and our God, Theophan wrote below that picture.

Dear Christian brothers and sisters, our Lord God is indeed for us.  He comes to us in a multitude of mysterious ways.  And He comes to us in His saints and through their intercessions, on our behalf.  He comes seeking our healing, just as He healed the woman in this morning’s Gospel.  He comes to heal us, to love us, and to seek our love for Him.

The Apostle Paul in our Epistle reading this morning exhorts us to put on the whole armor of God, to gird our waists with truth, to put on the breastplate of righteousness, and to properly shod our feet; all as a defense against fiery darts of the evil one who seek to take us down. 

Thank God that He is for us, that He comes to us in our saints; thank God that they fought the mighty fight and armored themselves against those fiery darts, and that through their intercessions we too might be strengthened to fight a similar fight.  These saints too, they are with us, they are for us, God’s presence to us, their intercessions before the Throne of Christ a mighty bulwark on our behalf.  F/S/HS