Monthly Archives: May 2019

Saint Photini the Great Martyr and Equal to the Apostles: Homily on the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman

As we continue to celebrate the new life that Jesus Christ’s resurrection has brought to the world, we are reminded today that His mercy and blessing extend to all, even the most unlikely people, like the Samaritans and those who are despised and rejected by respectable society.

The Jews hated the Samaritans as religious and ethnic half-breeds because they had mixed the ethnic heritage and the religion of Israel with that of other peoples. No self-respecting Jew would have anything to do with a Samaritan, much less ask one for a drink of water. But Jesus Christ did, and a Samaritan woman came to recognize Him as the Messiah, to believe in Him, and to lead many other Samaritans to the faith. She ultimately becomes Saint Photini, an evangelist and martyr with the title “equal to the apostles.”

All the more remarkable is the fact that she was not only a Samaritan, but she was a woman. Jewish men simply did not strike up conversations with women in public. Women had low status in that time and place and were not expected to have deep theological conversations with rabbis. But this Messiah operated differently. He saw in her one made in the image and likeness of God who, like every one of us, is called to a life of holiness, regardless of where we stand in worldly hierarchies.

The Samaritan woman also seemed an unlikely candidate for holiness because of her history with men. She had been married five times and was then living with a man outside of marriage. Some have suggested that she went to the well at noon, an unusual time to do so, in order to avoid encountering the other women of her village due to her bad reputation. The Lord knew about her history, but did not condemn, judge, or ignore her as a result. Perhaps because she appreciated His respect and genuine concern, she acknowledged to Him the truth about her life and their conversation continued. Quite possibly, she had never encountered a man who had treated her in this way before as a beloved child of God.

And very soon, she told the men of her village that Jesus Christ is the Messiah. Can you imagine how surprised they probably were to hear this woman speaking to them of God, for they surely were not used to thinking of her as an especially religious person? Think of how brave Photini was, how radically her life was changed through her encounter with Jesus Christ.

We will make a mistake this Pascha if we think that the good news of Christ’s resurrection is only for people who live what we consider to be admirable lives, those who measure up to our standards, or who are members of groups that we admire. We must not exclude anyone from the possibility of embracing the new life brought into the world by the empty tomb, even if they presently order their lives in less than ideal ways—as is true of us all in some respects. Jesus Christ Himself brought the blessing of His kingdom to a Samaritan woman with an immoral lifestyle. She was changed by His mercy and changed her ways. Who knows how many came to share in His eternal life through her witness and ministry?

We learn from the story of St. Photini that we must not write off anyone as a hopeless case. We must not isolate ourselves from those whose lives seem especially broken and off course—or even perverse and godless. If we respond with hatred, judgment, or stony silence to those we deem unworthy, we turn away from Christ’s ministry of bringing new life to the whole world. For which of us has the right to cast the first stone at a sinner? Our Saviour never condoned sin of any kind and neither should we; but He came not to condemn, but to save. He came to bring sinners to repentance, to heal the sick, to give sight to the blind. He died and rose again for the salvation of all created in His image and likeness, of the entire world. He has made great saints of murderers, adulterers, and evildoers of every kind who have called on His mercy and changed their lives.

When we have the opportunity to show compassion or friendship or encouragement to someone whose life is off course and who seems very far from following Jesus Christ, we should do so. Whenever anyone who bears the image of God is treated as less than human, we should show them the love of Christ. When we have the chance to draw into our church community someone whose life has been noticeably less than perfect, we should not hesitate. Yes, we should treat them as our Lord treated the Samaritan woman who became a great saint. To do anything less is to place our own limits on the power of the Risen Lord to bring salvation to the world—and it is to refuse to follow in the way of the One who conquered death.

St. Photini is also a powerful example for each of us as we struggle with our own sins, passions, bad habits, and weaknesses. Sometimes the burden of our sinfulness is great and we are tempted to despair of ever finding peace and healing in our lives. The standards of Christ are so high and we are so low. We can become obsessed with our unworthiness; and if we are not careful, this way of thinking can lead us away from the Church, for the guilt and frustration of spiritual failure are hard to bear, and we often would simply rather not think about it.

St. Photini was no stranger to such failures, but she learned to keep her eyes on the prize of the new life in Christ. Perhaps her experiences had taught her humility. She knew she was a sinner and must have been thrilled finally to be on a path that would take her in a different direction. We do not know the details, but she surely faced struggles, temptations, and reminders of the mess that she had made of her life. Some of those difficulties probably occurred in her own thoughts. Some people probably continued to view her in a judgmental light, for there are always those who appoint themselves as self-righteous judges of their neighbours and like to look down on them.

Despite these obstacles, the Samaritan woman with a checkered past became a glorious saint, an evangelist equal to the apostles and ultimately a martyr. If she could pass over from sin to righteousness, from death to life, in Christ Jesus, then we can, too. The great blessing of Pascha comes to us all, and we have countless opportunities in our families, our marriages, our parish, our friendships, our workplace, our use of time, money, and energy, in all our thoughts, words, and deeds, to participate more fully in the Lord’s victory over sin and death.

No matter what we have done in the past, no matter our present weaknesses and challenges, no matter what anyone thinks or says about us, we must remember that the Son of God has conquered death in order to bring us into the eternal life of the Holy Trinity, to make us partakers of the divine nature. Like the Samaritan woman, we must acknowledge our corruption and turn to Christ with faith, love, and hope for a new life, and then continue on the journey of discipleship, even when we stumble or are tempted to give up.

Just as we ask for the Lord’s mercy on our sins, we must extend the same mercy to others. The Saviour spoke the truth with love and respect for the Samaritan woman, but he did not condemn or judge her. And He has surely not appointed any of us to judge others either.

St. Photini did not earn the new life given her by Christ, and Pascha is not a reward given to us for our good behavior. During this season of Pascha, we know that life eternal has sprung from an empty tomb purely as the result of our Lord’s love and mercy. The good news of Pascha extends to the Samaritan women of our day and even to us. So let us embrace our Risen Lord and become participants in His life. He raised up St. Photini and brought her from darkness into light; and He will do the same for us when we respond with faith and repentance: that is the gloriously good news of this season of resurrection. Let us embrace Him by living a holy life that draws others into the new day of the Heavenly Kingdom, even as did St. Photini the Great Martyr and Equal to the Apostles.

Fr. Philip LeMasters


The original name of the Samaritan woman is not known, but the church knows her as Photini, “Equal to the Apostles”. She was baptized after the resurrection, and in a continuation of her zealous apostolic ministry begun on the day she met the Lord, preached in many areas, including Carthage and Smyrna in Asia Minor, where she was martyred. She had five daughters and two sons, all of whom became martyrs. She is commemorated February 28th, and, of course, on the fifth Sunday of Pascha.

Comments Off on Saint Photini the Great Martyr and Equal to the Apostles: Homily on the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman

Filed under Readings, Saints, Sunday Homilies

ST JOHN THE RUSSIAN

Commemorated on 27 May

St John was born around 1690 in the south of Russia to pious Orthodox parents. Upon reaching maturity he was called to service in the army of Peter I, to serve as a simple soldier. During the Prutsk campaign of the Russo-Turkish war he was taken prisoner. As the case then, he ended up as a slave of the Turkish cavalry commander who took John to his home in the village of Prokopion, near Caesarea in Asia Minor.

Like all captured Christian soldiers, John was threatened, tortured, subjected to all means to convert him to the Moslem faith. John was resolute in his resistance to this inhumane treatment, bravely enduring humiliations and beatings. Noting John’s firm faith, his master’s heart softened and John was assigned to take care of his master’s stable, which also became his living quarters. Recalling the cave and manger where his Saviour came into the world, John rejoiced in his small dark corner of the stable as a little paradise where he could freely pray and offer praises to the true God. Occasionally, John would leave his bed to keep vigil at the nearby Church of the Great Martyr George, and on Saturdays and Feast days receive Holy Communion.

As the cavalry commander prospered, he understood his blessings and prosperity came through his servant John, and noted this to his fellow citizens.

Foreseeing his end, John called for a priest from the church he had attended and asked to partake of the immaculate mysteries. The priest was afraid to openly bring the Eucharist into the stable. Being divinely inspired, he dug the core out of an apple and lined the cavity with beeswax and placed the communion inside. He then visited the saint at the stables and gave him Communion.

After receiving communion, John fell asleep in the Lord on May 27, 1730.

Comments Off on ST JOHN THE RUSSIAN

Filed under Feast Days, Readings, Saints

Healed to Rise Up and Walk: Homily for the Sunday of the Paralytic

John 5:1-15

Christ is Risen!

We do not like to be dragged down or held back by problems that we cannot solve. Whether it is our own health, a broken relationship with others, or a complex set of circumstances over which we have little control, it is very frustrating to know our weakness before seemingly insurmountable challenges.

That is surely how the invalids, blind, lame, and paralyzed felt as they waited for the chance to be healed by being the first to reach the pool of water troubled by the angel. Due to their illnesses, many must have despaired over ever being healed. The man who had been paralyzed for 38 years was one of those, for there was no one to help him move toward the water. Here we have an image of humanity before the coming of Christ. The Jews had a Temple in which animals were sacrificed, and the pool provided water for washing lambs before they were offered to God. This scene occurs at the Jewish feast of Pentecost, which commemorated Moses receiving the Law, which was given by angels.

Fallen humanity, however, remained spiritually weak and sick. They lacked the strength to fulfill God’s requirements, and certainly could not conquer death, the wages of sin for all those who have fallen short of the glory of God. The sacrificial system of the Temple foreshadowed the great Self-Offering of our Lord on the Cross, but did not heal anyone from the ravages of spiritual corruption or raise anyone from the grave. It was a great blessing for the Jews to have the Law, but surely also a tremendous frustration not to have the strength to obey it fully. Only Christ Himself fulfilled the Law, which is why He can call and empower us to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt. 5:48)

In contrast, the paralyzed man represents all who lack the power to move themselves to complete healing, to find the fulfillment of our common human calling to become like God in holiness. Notice that he did not call out to Christ to help him; instead, the Lord reached out to him, asking “Do you want to be healed?” That may seem like a strange question, for presumably anyone waiting by a pool for healing after 38 years of illness would want to be made well. But think for a moment about how we have all learned to adapt to our favorite sins, how we have become comfortable with whatever forms of corruption have become second nature to us over the years. By virtue of coming to Church, we are apparently religious people, but that does not mean that we truly want to be healed. For to be healed means obeying the Lord’s command to this fellow: “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.” It requires making the effort to rise up in obedience, to be transformed personally in how we live each day, and to grow in holiness.

It would not have sufficed for that man to have remained on his bed and have warm feelings about how Christ had healed him. Just as anyone who lies motionless for a long time will become weak and unable to rise up and walk on his own power, the same will be true of us spiritually if we try to rest content with simply believing ideas about God or having positive emotions about Him. If we are not gaining strength by actually serving Him faithfully, we will become paralyzed and unable to cooperate with our Lord’s gracious healing energies. Any spiritual health that we claim in that state will be a figment of our imagination.

The good news is that the Lord does not simply provide us with a set of rules to follow or services to perform. He makes us participants in Himself by grace. He unites us to Himself, raising us up with Him from slavery to sin and death to the great dignity of those who share in His eternal life. The Saviour makes us members of His own Body, the Church. He is the Bridegroom and we are the Bride. He makes us radiant in holiness, like an iron left in the fire of the divine glory. That is how He heals us such that we have the strength to obey His command to get up from our bed of corruption and move forward in a blessed life of holiness.

Though we may not yet have the eyes to see it, this healing and strengthening of our humanity happens to this day through our life in the Church. In our reading from Acts, St Peter heals a paralyzed man and commands him to get up. He even raises a woman from death. Peter did not do this by his own power or authority, but because the Lord was working through him. He said to the paralyzed man, “Jesus Christ heals you…” Throughout Acts, we read of how the Lord works through His Body, the Church, to enable people to participate personally in the new life of the resurrection that He shares with us by grace.

That is not, however, a life of merely having our names on a church membership roll or of calling ourselves Orthodox Christians. If our faithfulness extends only that far, we will become as weak as a person who remains immobile in bed and refuses to stand up and walk. We must not be like those poor souls waiting by the pool for someone else to move them into the healing water. On His own gracious initiative, Jesus Christ has given each of us the strength to overcome the paralysis of sin through His resurrection. He does not simply give us commands; He gives us Himself. And our life in His Body, the Church is truly our participation in Him.

We receive His healing of our souls when we humbly repent of our sins in Confession. We are nourished for the life of the Kingdom by His Body and Blood in Holy Communion. When we offer our time, energy, and resources to support the ministries of the Church, we rise up from selfishness to participate in the abundant generosity of the Lord. When we stop thinking of ourselves as isolated individuals and instead as members of a Body with a common life in Christ, we will be able to love and serve one another in ways that will open us to His strength personally and collectively in powerful ways.

In the joy of the resurrection, we must learn to see that embracing our life together in Christ is an essential dimension of obeying His command to “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.” He calls each of us to turn away from the paralyzing weakness of selfishness and laziness that would make whatever sins we have become comfortable with appear more important than serving Him in His Body, the Church, where the glory and power of the resurrection are fully present.

Think about that for a moment. Pascha is not an isolated event that happened long ago, but an entrance into the new day of the Kingdom of Heaven which is fully open to us in the worship and common life of this parish. The Saviour calls each of us, weakened and held back by the corruptions of sin, to get up and move forward in the blessed life for which He made us in His image and likeness. That is why He died and rose again, to raise us up with Him for a life of holiness, to restore us to the ancient dignity of Paradise. May this season of Pascha be our entrance as a parish into the joy of the Kingdom. That will happen when we rise up, from whatever corruptions are holding us back, to a life of obedience in serving Him and one another in His Body, the Church. That is the only way to answer the question that He asks each of us today and every day: “Do you want to be healed?” Christ is Risen!

Fr. Philip LeMasters

Comments Off on Healed to Rise Up and Walk: Homily for the Sunday of the Paralytic

Filed under Readings, Sunday Homilies

The embrace of the Church is always open to us…

~ Words of the Church Fathers ~

Brothers and Sisters! The all-merciful God desires happiness for us both in this life and in the life to come.

To this end He established His Holy Church, so that she might cleanse us from sin, sanctify us, reconcile us with Him and give us a heavenly blessing.

The embrace of the Church is always open to us. Let us all hasten there more quickly, we whose consciences are burdened. Let us hasten, and the Church will lift the weight of our burdens, give us boldness before God, and fill our hearts with happiness and blessedness.

St Nectarios of Aegina, The Path to Happiness, 1


Comments Off on The embrace of the Church is always open to us…

Filed under Readings, Wisdom of the Church Fathers

The Disorienting Shock of an Empty Tomb: Homily for the Sunday of the Myrrh-Bearing Women in the Orthodox Church

We all know what it is like to receive shocking news. Sometimes it is simply impossible to be prepared to hear an astounding message that we did not expect at all. Today we commemorate the people who received the most shocking news of all time from the angel: “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, Who was crucified. He is Risen. He is not here…Go tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.”

These first witnesses to our salvation were all women who expected to find the dead body of Jesus Christ in the tomb. They saw Him die on the Cross and now went to anoint Him properly for burial. Like the disciples and everyone else, these women did not expect the resurrection. We can only imagine how sad, scared, and terribly disappointed they must have been as they rose very early on Sunday morning to take their sorrowful journey to His tomb. When they got there, these women–the Theotokos, Mary Magdalen, two other Mary’s, Johanna, Salome, Martha, Susanna and others whose names we do not know– were the first to receive the shocking news of the resurrection of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ.

We also remember today Sts. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, prominent Jewish leaders who were also the Lord’s secret followers. Joseph “took courage” and risked his position and perhaps his life by asking Pilate for the Savior’s body. He took Him down from the Cross and, with Nicodemus’ help, wrapped Him in a linen shroud and put Him in a tomb.

Not only must the women and the men we remember today have been torn apart with grief at the death of Christ, they were surely afraid to be identified with One Who had been rejected, condemned, and publicly executed as a blasphemer by the Jews and a traitor by the Romans. Nonetheless, they found the courage to do what devotion to their Lord required, regardless of their pain and fear. They served Christ in the only way still available to them by providing Him a decent burial.

There is a powerful realism about this story, for it certainly does not read like something made up after the fact. The Lord’s disciples are not even present in it, for they had run away in fear at His arrest. St. Peter, the chief disciple, had denied Him three times before His crucifixion. The first witnesses of the resurrection are all women, whose testimony had no authority in that time and place. Moreover, they went to the grave in order to anoint His dead body, not to find an empty tomb. Like them, Sts Joseph and Nicodemus viewed Christ simply as one of the dead at that point. If someone were trying to make up a story to support the truth of the resurrection and to build up the credibility of the first Christians, this would not be the way to do it. It is, however, the perfect way to bear witness to the shocking truth of what no one expected, of what makes no sense according to our usual ways of thinking, and of what truly happened on that great and holy day when Life first dawned from the tomb.

As we continue to celebrate the glorious season of Christ’s Passover from death to life, we must not lose the sense of disorienting shock that the myrrh-bearing women received when they saw the stone that had been rolled away from the door of the tomb and heard the message from the angel of the Savior’s resurrection. What happened was so amazing that “they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Too often, we take the good news of Christ’s victory over death for granted as part of a story that we know quite well. Even as we are accustomed to the intensified prayer, fasting, and repentance of Lent, we get used to the joyful celebration of the season of Pascha each year. A way to reopen the eyes of our souls to the unique and extraordinary nature of the Lord’s resurrection is for us to put ourselves in the place of the myrrh-bearers and of Sts Joseph and Nicodemus by struggling to overcome anything that would hold us back from devoted service to Jesus Christ, even when it is not easy. Nothing that these holy women and men did in the aftermath of Christ’s death was fun, popular, or safe. We can be sure that they would have all strongly preferred to be doing something other than burying their friend and Lord. But they overcame those struggles and pressed on in serving Him in the only way available to them. If they were to love Him then, they had to give Him a proper burial.

Our situation is obviously different, for we live well after the Lord’s resurrection. Nonetheless, the spiritual challenge is the same. No generation gets to pick the circumstances that it faces. Human beings do not get to choose the illnesses, tragedies, or other problems that they encounter. It is not entirely up to us what temptations and weaknesses challenge us, our marriages, and our families spiritually, morally, or in any other way. Indeed, if we pretend that we get to pick how to serve our Lord in ways that suit us, we will likely ignore what He is actually calling us to do. Our challenge is to be faithful in responding to the situation that is before us, in discerning how to bear witness to Christ’s victory over death in the here and now, even if we would rather be doing something else.

The Church in Jerusalem faced a similar situation when there was strife over the daily distribution of bread to widows of different ethnic backgrounds. The apostles were too busy with their ministries to address that problem, so they ordained the first deacons to serve the practical needs of the community. And as a result, the Church flourished. We can be sure that the apostles would have preferred for such problems not to have arisen at all. But that is not what happened. When the problem arose, they had to find a way to address it. To have ignored it because they did not like it would have been to ignore God’s calling to them and to have refused to serve Christ in His Body, the Church.

We will grow in our participation in the Savior’s victory over sin and death by humbly accepting the opportunities for serving Him that our lives, and the lives of those around us, present. Most of us need look no further than our own families, our parish, and our friends and acquaintances in order to discern quite clearly what God is calling us to do. If we want a Lord Who fits our preconceived notions and calls us to serve Him only in ways that we find convenient, pleasing, or easy, then we will fall into the idolatry of worshiping our own self-centered delusions. Remember that our Lord’s empty tomb was an unexpected shock from which the women initially fled in fear. But what was at first so terrifying turned out to be a blessing beyond anyone’s expectations. Had the women not put themselves in the place of humble obedience and service, they would not have been the first witnesses of the resurrection. And our lives will not bear witness to the joy of Christ’s great victory unless we do the difficult work of serving Him in whatever circumstances we face, regardless of whether we especially like them or not.

Pascha was truly disorienting for all our Lord’s followers. It did not fit with any conventional expectations for religion in that time and place, and it still does not. In order to participate more fully in the life of our Risen Lord, we must follow the example of those blessed women and men who, in the midst of their fear and pain, did what needed to be done in order to love and serve Christ, even though they could not imagine what was to happen next. Theirs was not a self-centered, sentimental, or culturally accommodated spirituality, but a way of living that opened them to the new day of a Kingdom not of this world. The shock of the empty tomb was overwhelming, but that was necessary in order to open their eyes to news so good that nothing could have prepared them for it. This Paschal season, let us follow their holy example so that our eyes will also be opened to the brilliant light that continues to illumine even the darkest grave. As the angel said, “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, Who was crucified. He is Risen. He is not here…Go tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.”

Fr. Philip LeMasters

Comments Off on The Disorienting Shock of an Empty Tomb: Homily for the Sunday of the Myrrh-Bearing Women in the Orthodox Church

Filed under Holy Week & Holy Pascha, Readings, Sunday Homilies

Having God, fear nothing…

~ Words of the Church Fathers ~

As God illumines all people equally with the light of the sun, so do those who desire to imitate God let shine an equal ray of love on all people. For wherever love disappears, hatred immediately appears in its place. And if God is love, then hatred is the devil. Therefore as one who has love has God within himself, so he who has hatred within himself nurtures the devil within himself.
St. Basil the Great, Homily on Asceticism, 3

Having God, fear nothing, but cast all of your care upon Him, and He will take care of you. Believe undoubtingly, and God will help you according to His mercy.
St. Barsanuphius the Great, Instructions, 166

Comments Off on Having God, fear nothing…

Filed under Wisdom of the Church Fathers

His Bodily Wounds and Ours: Homily for Thomas Sunday in the Orthodox Church

Sunday of Thomas, John 4: 5-42

Christ is Risen!

I was surprised a few years ago in one of my college classes when even the best students were surprised to learn that Christian hope for eternal life includes the resurrection of the body. They were comfortable thinking of human souls experiencing eternal life, but doubted that our actual physical bodies would have any part in the Kingdom of Heaven. Especially on this Sunday of St. Thomas, we celebrate how Christ’s bodily resurrection is the basis of hope for our own. Today we proclaim that our Savior brings healing and transformation to whole, embodied persons, for that is how He conquered death on the third day.

As we continue to celebrate the glorious good news of this season of Pascha, we recall how Christ called doubting Thomas to faith in His great victory. “He said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see My hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.’ Thomas answered Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” Still bearing His wounds even in His glorified body as the God-Man, the Risen Christ brought Thomas to faith through the witness of His own deified flesh.

We have probably heard the story so many times that we have become deaf to its importance. Nonetheless, it remains the case that the Savior’s resurrection is not an escape from the body or the physical world, but instead their healing and sanctification. Likewise, St. John referred in his epistle to that “which we have seen with our own eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – the life was made manifest, and we saw it…” The Apostles saw the Lord after His resurrection with their eyes, touched Him with their hands, heard His voice with their ears, felt His breath on their skin, and even saw Him eat food. (Luke 24: 36-43).

The good news that “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” comes from a resurrection in glory of a complete Person with a human body marked by the wounds of torture and crucifixion. His resurrection is not an escape from the body, but its fulfillment. The Eternal Word Who created us by breathing into the dust of the earth now breathes physically on His Disciples as He empowers them to carry out His ministry of bringing salvation to the world, even to the point of forgiving sins in His name. Here are powerful signs of what it means for human beings to be in the likeness of God and partakers of the divine nature by grace.

These are not merely details of ancient history, but reminders that we participate in Christ’s Passover from death to life by how we live as whole, embodied persons. We were baptized physically with water into Christ’s death in order to put Him on like a garment, in order to rise with Him into a new life of holiness. To be blunt, the Christian life is not simply about our emotions, ideas, or opinions; it is not reduced to what we say we believe. For those who are truly in Christ will live in ways that manifest the brilliant life of the resurrection, that radiate the holy light of the Savior’s great victory over sin and death. As St. John put it, “If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”

We participate in the new life of our Risen Lord by walking into His light, by embracing as fully as we can the blessed healing of the human being that He has brought to the world. Christ’s Passion was not a matter simply of His feelings, words, or ideas, but of His complete Self-offering through crucifixion, burial, descent to Hades, and resurrection from the dead. He rises in glory with His wounds, and we cannot begin to make sense of His salvation without speaking of the most bodily of realities, such as torture, execution, death, and burial in a tomb that was later found to be empty.

We are probably all tempted at times to think how much easier it would be to serve God if we did not have our particular set of bodily limitations and problems. Some are challenged by physical or mental illness, while others wrestle with passions for the pleasures of food, sex, alcohol, or other substances. Eating disorders and unrealistic expectations of what their bodies should look like ruin the health and well-being of some, while others struggle to accept that their male or female bodies are signs of who they are in God’s image and likeness.

Many today ignore the sacredness of the intimate bodily union of man and woman, which makes two into one flesh. The epidemic of pornography in our culture reflects a repudiation of the sacredness of the flesh and blood through which we encounter the living icons of Christ. Some refuse to honor the bodies of their neighbors by becoming blind to the humanity of children in the womb, of people with skin of a different color, or of terminally ill patients in chronic pain. And whether it is greed, sloth, anger, or refusal to help the needy with our time, attention, and resources, there is no sin that does not show itself physically in some way in the lives of those who struggle with it.

No matter what someone’s particular struggles, weaknesses, or failings are, we must respond with compassion, for we too are among the sick who need the Physician. Nonetheless, no physical condition can ever make us sin or do evil. The problem is not that we have bodies, but that we choose to remain in the tomb, that we would rather walk in the darkness than in the light. For it is no sin to be ill or to be tempted in any way. The Lord Himself suffered terribly on the cross and was tempted. It is a sin, however, to let any of our wounds become excuses for not walking in the light as best we can. It is a sin to let anything fill our lives with such darkness that we refuse to open our eyes—and our lives—to the good news of the resurrection. It is a sin when we think that God must remove this or that problem in order to earn our faithfulness, in order to be worthy of our devotion. As we celebrate Christ’s great victory over sin and death, we must not be afraid to expose our wounded selves to Him with humility as we say with St. Thomas “My Lord and my God!”

Remember that the Savior has taken upon Himself even the worst bodily wounds. It is through them that He has brought life out of death and brilliant light out of the darkest tomb. Darkness is simply the absence of light and it disappears when it is illumined. The same Lord Who conquered Hades and the tomb for our salvation, and Who invited Thomas to touch His wounds, will bring us as whole, embodied persons into the new day of His Kingdom if we will only keep turning as best we can from the darkness as we struggle to live faithfully each day in the midst of the problems, pains, and weaknesses that beset us. We must all take that journey one day at a time.

The good news is that Christ does not ask us to conquer sin and death by our own power, for He has already done that. But He does ask us truly to have faith, which requires a faithful life, even as we constantly ask for His mercy and strength to participate as fully as possible in the joy of His resurrection. We will not do that with a fake spirituality that relies purely on emotions or ideas, but as whole persons of flesh and blood enlivened by the One Who made us in His image and likeness and even died and rose again for our salvation. So let us celebrate Pascha by walking in the light as best we can with all our wounds, for that is how we will open ourselves to the light that has made even the tomb radiant with the divine glory. If He can do that to a grave, just imagine what He can do with us.

Fr. Philip LeMasters

Comments Off on His Bodily Wounds and Ours: Homily for Thomas Sunday in the Orthodox Church

Filed under Holy Week & Holy Pascha, Readings, Sunday Homilies