16 December OS 2020 – Tuesday of the Thirteenth Week of St. Luke; Holy Prophet Aggaios (Haggai), St. Modestos of Jerusalem, St. Theophano the Empress
Today’s Gospel reading for the daily cycle is Mark 8:22-26 –
And he cometh to Bethsaida; and they bring a blind man unto him, and besought him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town; and when he had spit on his eyes, and put his hands upon him, he asked him if he saw aught [anything]. And he looked up, and said, I see men as trees, walking. After that he put his hands again upon his eyes, and made him look up: and he was restored, and saw every man clearly. And he sent him away to his house, saying, Neither go into the town, nor tell it to any in the town.
St. Theophan the Recluse comments on the gradual healing of the man’s sight as an image of the gradual enlightenment of the human race in the Old and New Testaments:
The Lord did not heal the blind man of Bethsaida immediately – He first healed him a little, and then completely, so that he began to see everything clearly. Why the Lord did this is known to Him alone. We can take from this the following thought: if it was considered necessary to heal bodily vision gradually, then even more so is such gradualness indispensable in the enlightenment of the eyes of our mind. That is how it has been. During the period of the [Old Testament] patriarchs, Divinely revealed knowledge was not complicated. During the period under the law it became more complex and detailed. In our Christian period, it is even more detailed and exalted; but is this the end? Do not expect anything higher on the earth, but in the other world there will be [something higher]. Two Holy Apostles assure us of this: Sts. John and Paul. “Now we see everything through a glass, darkly (I Cor. 13:12),” but then we will see everything clearly. But even there, there will be degrees of enlightenment of the mind, for the realm of the knowledge of God is boundless. God’s revelation on earth is already complete; there is no point in dreaming about something higher. We have everything we need; learn it and live by it. Christian revelation does not promise new revelation in the future, but only that the Gospel will be known in the whole world, and that this universality and generality of the knowledge of the Gospel is the limit of the current order of things. After this, faith will weaken, love will dry up, life will become difficult – and God’s goodness will put an end to the world. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 279
There is a lot for thought here, but three main points are as follows:
1. After the original knowledge of God in Paradise had been lost to man through sin, the Lord gradually, patiently revealed Himself to the human race, not in spectacular announcements to entire populations, but to a few people, His chosen ones before the Law (the patriarchs) and after the Law (the prophets and holy ones of the Old Israel). When He deemed the time was right, He Himself came in the flesh He took from the Virgin, and this is the complete and perfect revelation of Who God is: the God-Man Jesus Christ. When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, it was not to give a new revelation, but to enlighten the minds of the Apostles to understand what they had already received.
2. Through the Apostles and the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, we have been given everything we need to know – in the Orthodox Faith. No new revelations are needed, and none will be given, and we could spend all our lifetimes studying the Faith that has already been revealed and only scratch the surface. All “new revelations” after the New Testament, such as the Koran and the Book of Mormon, are full of falsehood and deception, coming as they do from the Father of Lies. The true Fathers and Teachers of the Church never claimed to have a new revelation but rather only expounded on what they had received. All that remains is for us to live our Faith and to share it. When it has been shared to the extent possible – according to the foreknowledge and plan of God – God will put an end to this present, temporal order of things, for this world will have served its purpose.
3. In the Kingdom of Heaven, there will be unlimited and eternal progress in the knowledge of God. God is not only infinite but also infinitely knowable, and He made our minds to know Him. The nous, the mind, does not perish with death. Between the Particular Judgment and the General Resurrection, the souls of the saved will use their minds to know God more and more, and this will be all the more true after they will have received their immortal bodies at the Resurrection. Eternity for the blessed will be – is – an infinite progression in the knowledge and love of God.
If we do not like to pray and to do spiritual reading, this is because our fallen nature and the demons fight it, in order to prevent our becoming who we really are and are supposed to become. We must force ourselves to pray and to study our Faith, and by so doing we will attract God’s grace, by whose power alone we can acquire a steady appetite for spiritual things. If we do not acquire such an appetite before we die, heaven will be quite uninteresting for us – as a matter of fact, we will not want to go there. Think about it.
We are about to celebrate the Birth of Our Lord from the Holy Virgin. Was she an automaton, a robotic tool of God’s purpose, as many Protestant sectarians seem to think? Did God merely use her as if she were an uninvolved, indifferent bystander to His plan for the salvation of mankind, some random woman among any number of random women He could have seized upon? By no means – perish the blasphemy! Quite the opposite is true, as St. Gregory Palamas makes clear in the following passage from his great Second Homily on the Entry of the Theotokos:
Who ever loved God more than she, whom we now extol? What other creature could ever be purer than she, or equal to her in purity, or anywhere near as pure? For this reason, she alone of all mankind throughout the ages was initiated into the highest mysteries by these divine visions, was united in this way with God, and became like Him. She then accomplished the super-human role of intercessor on our behalf, and brought it to perfection by herself, not just acquiring this indescribable exaltation of mind, but using it for the sake of us all, and doing this supremely great deed by means of her boldness towards God. For she did not merely come to resemble God, but she made God in the likeness of man, not just by persuading Him, but by conceiving Him without seed and bearing Him in a way past telling. Having been fashioned by God through grace – which is why she was addressed as “thou that art full of grace” by the Angel – she shaped God in human form – which is why she was given the good tidings with the greeting, “Rejoice” (Luke 1:28). – from Mary the Mother of God, Sermons by Saint Gregory Palamas (Mount Thabor Publishing 2005), pp. 48-49.
In other words, Panagia was incomparably the greatest created person of prayer who ever was and ever will be, the greatest doer of hesychastic prayer. And she is also therefore the greatest theologian, for she used her created mind to the utmost, to do what the mind was made to do: to know God. Through her incomparable purity of soul and mind, she acquired the utmost boldness before God, and she interceded all-powerfully, invincibly, for the salvation of man. In response to this prayer, God came to save us, by becoming a man in her womb.
When we have no appetite for divine things, when we are sluggish and dull, uninterested in prayer and divine study, let us run to the Holy Virgin and beg her to ask her Divine Son to give us that divine eros, that burning desire to know and to love Him, which she possessed to the utmost. Let us push ourselves, as well – we have to do some of the work! – and the Lord, seeing our humble efforts, will graciously give us the divine desire to know Him, not only in His mighty works, but also in His infinite perfections – to love Him not only because of what He has done, but pre-eminently because of Who He Is, because He is worthy of all love.
This is a fitting gift to the Christ-Child at this holy season!