Sermon delivered May 9, 2010.
We are now in the middle of Spring moving towards Summer. What defines these two seasons? Technically, Spring and Summer are determined by the position of Sun relative to the latitude of the Earth. Thus, Spring begins on March 21st when the Sun is directly above the Equator or the middle/neutral latitude of the Earth. Summer begins on June 21st when the Sun reaches its farthest point on (for us in the United States) the northern latitude of the Earth. Most people tend to like the seasons of Spring and Summer because the position of the Sun brings us more daylight hours and a consequential increase in temperature. Just like flowers, plants and trees turn green and grow in its light, our body and mind respond well to the light and warmth of the Sun. Our general attitude and spirit tend to improve and become more positive as we progress through Spring and Summer. It’s almost like we need the Sun. It’s very difficult, if not impossible to live without it.
There is another Sun in our life. It’s not a terrestrial body but a living person. Not just any person but the second person of God. He is the SON of God but is referred to at times as the SUN of Righteousness. Of course, this person is our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ. We refer to Him as the SUN of Righteousness because He said to His disciples in today’s gospel reading (6th Sunday of Pascha, John 9:1-38) “I am the light of the world” (v.5). As we said earlier, we need the light and warmth of the terrestrial Sun. Much more so do we need the light and warmth of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Surely, it is no mistake that God chooses to reveal Himself as light as He appeared to Moses on Mt. Sinai in the flame of the burning bush and as He led the Israelites out of Egypt towards the promised land in the pillar of fire. In addition, Jesus reveals His divinity in this way, “and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.” (Mt.17:2).
In Orthodox Christian, the presence of God in the form of light is emphasized by the use of sun light, oil lamps, candles and gold to illuminate the inside of the temple, especially the icons. More to the point, almost all Orthodox churches are built so the worshippers are facing East. This is done because the terrestrial Sun rises in the East bring natural light into the temple and more importantly, because Jesus the spiritual light of the world will come from the East at the Parousia (the Second Coming). Thus, as we worship God, we expect and await the return of His Son Jesus to establish His Kingdom forever. Let us briefly revisit the subject of icons. Icons are holy images. Icons of Jesus Christ often depict Him holding a book, the gospel, which is either open or shut. If it is open, these words are written on the page, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12).
Just a few weeks ago, at the Liturgy of Great and Holy Pascha, we read from the beginning of John’s gospel. Listen to these words: 1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. 6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. 8He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. 9That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world” (John 1:1-9).
In the weeks following Pascha we continue reading from the Gospel of John. Listen to these passages as Jesus Himself speaks about the light:
"He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God."
"The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!"
Then Jesus said to them, “A little while longer the light is with you. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going. 36While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” These things Jesus spoke, and departed, and was hidden from them.
Then Jesus cried out and said, “He who believes in Me, believes not in Me but in Him who sent Me. And he who sees Me sees Him who sent Me. I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness. And if anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day. For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. And I know that His command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak.”
We know that before Jesus was incarnate in the flesh He, being the eternal Word of God, was speaking to us through the prophets of the Old Testament. Listen to the wisdom given regarding light:
Psalm 18:28 — For You will light my lamp; The Lord my God will enlighten my darkness.
Psalm 27:1 — The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid?
Psalm 36:9 — For with You is the fountain of life; In Your light we see light.
Psalm 89:15 — Blessed are the people who know the joyful sound! They walk, O Lord, in the light of Your countenance.
Psalm 119:105 — Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.
Psalm 119:130 — The entrance of Your words gives light; It gives understanding to the simple.
Proverbs 6:23 — For the commandment is a lamp, And the law a light; Reproofs of instruction are the way of life.
The essence of the teaching in these passages is that God is light, who enlightens our mind, heart, soul and body to dispel the darkness of sin in our life. In order to receive the divine light we must hear the word of God, repent of our sins and follow His commandments. The conversion of St. Paul is a good example of this paradigm. Listen to the account from the Book of Acts:Acts 9:1-9
Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
We know that Saul did as the risen Lord commanded, received his sight and receiving the new name Paul went on to become the greatest of the Apostles. His example, together with the blindman’s example from today’s gospel, show that Jesus Christ is able to restore physical sight.
More importantly, He gives spiritual sight, one could say ‘insight’, to those blinded by sin. He does this so we may behold the truth, the state of things as they are, not as we want them or think them to be. In addition, the Lord gives spiritual sight so that we, His disciples, may also become the light of the world. He says in the Gospel of Matthew:
“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Mt.5:14-15).
In other words, through the light of Christ, we can become Christophoroi (literally “Christ-bearers”). Providentially, we celebrate the memory of Saint Christophoros today, May 9th. We become Christ-bearers, we become Christ-like through our humble, repentant, faithful presence to other people. Thus, God is manifest to others through us.
Fr. Richard Demetrius Andrews is the pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Fr. Andrews is the past president of Minnesota Eastern Orthodox Christian Clergy Association (MEOCCA), and a volunteer chaplain with the St. Paul Police Department.