The Sunday of the Blind Man/St. John the Theologian
On this day, in addition to the commemoration of the healing the blind man in the Pentecostarion we have a commemoration of St. John the Theologian (Old Calendar). On this day a sort of ash would appear on his grave which had healing power so a feast day for him was established in addition to his repose on September 26th.
Let us think about St. John Theologian and what he has bequeathed to Christianity. He established the Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ in the opening verses of his gospel and he alone gave us a definition of God. He declares: God is love. In the fourth chapter of his first epistle he writes: “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” (I John 4:7-8)
A little further on he says:
“God is love; and he that abideth in love abideth in God, and God in him.” (IJohn 4:16)
In his gospel he records our Lord saying:
“As the Father hath loved Me, so have I loved you: abide ye in My love. If ye keep My commandments, ye shall abide in My love; even as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love.” (John 15:9-10)
We must remember that if we transgress the commandments of God we lose grace, and so, it is not possible to abide in His love. But do we have any idea of what is meant by the love of God. What is our Lord asking of us when he says, abide ye in My love. Is it what we know as the love we may feel for others even the closest of relations in an immediate family? Is it something more? Yes it is. It has to be, for it is a manifestation of the Uncreated Energy of God and we are one of His creatures.
St. Sophrony gives us some notion of this love when, only a few days before his death, he stated: “The content of the person of Christ is the self-emptying love unto the end, by which He accomplished the salvation of the world.” (Man the Target of God, Archimandrite Zacharias, Mount Thabor Publishing 2016, p. 147)
Concerning the love of Christ St. Sophrony has written:
“Victorious in eternity, Christ’s love on the earthly plane spells extreme suffering. No one has ever known such suffering as Christ endured. He descended into hell, the most painful hell of all, the hell of love. This is a sphere of existence which can only be apprehended through spiritual love—how far we can penetrate the mystery depends on the measure of love that has been granted to us to know from on High. It is vital to have experienced, if only once, the heavenly fire which Christ brought with Him; to know with our entire being what it is to be even a little like Christ.” (His Life is Mine, Archimandrite Sophrony, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press 1977, p. 91)
Yet even if we are granted such an experience as that of which the Apostle Paul writes—“to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:18-9)—even if we experience such, a long struggle will follow. A long struggle, not only for days and months and years, but even for decades. This is a struggle to live the ascetic life of our Church. The fruit of such struggle will be to assimilate the experience one has had and for it to become an innate part of their person. To use the phrase of St. Sophrony, a “dogmatic consciousness”.
In his book on St. Silouan he writes:
“The history of the Church together with personal contact with many ascetics has led me to the conclusion that the experience of grace in those who have been granted visitations and visions is only assimilated deeply after years of ascetic endeavor; grace then taking the form of spiritual knowledge that I should prefer to define as “dogmatic consciousness” (but not in the academic sense of the term).
The historical experience of the Church, in which I may include the Apostles and Holy Fatrhers both ancient and modern, makes it possible to calculate this period of assimilation as lasting at least fifteen years. Thus St. Paul’s first epistle (to the Thessalonians) was written some fifteen years after the Lord had appeared to him on the road to Damascus. Often this period lasts twenty, twenty-five, even thirty or more years….Most of the Holy Fathers acquainted the world with their visions and experiences only when their ascetic course was nearing its close. More than thirty years elapsed before the Staretz set down in writing, with final and mature dogmatic consciousness, his own experience. The assimilation of grace is a lengthy process.” (pp. 185-6 St. Silouan the Athonite, Archimandrite Sophrony, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press)
May Christ our true God Who has opened the eyes of the blind, open the eyes our heart to the experience of true knowledge of Him and strengthen us to walk upon the path of the ascetic life of our Church and attain to “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). Amen.