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An influential work of early Syriac Christianity, composed in the late fourth century, is called the “Book of Steps.” Corresponding to the topography of Eden and to the layout of an Orthodox Christian Temple, the Book of Steps shows creation existing in three dimensions. These are not parallel to one another; they are, as it were, permeable, the three dimensions existing in each other on a continuum. The outermost dimension is the visible Church; inside the visible Church is the spiritual Church, or the Church of the heart; and inside that is the Heavenly Church. The visible Church can be seen by everyone, but the inner Church can be seen only by those who, through the ascetic disciplines of the cross – prayer, fasting, vigils, and the striving for humility – are purifying their hearts. To purify the heart means to expel the serpent from its inner chamber and purge it of the serpent’s venom.
For, drawing now from St Macarius the Egyptian: “From the time that Adam transgressed the commandment, the serpent entered in and made himself master of the house, and became like a second soul beside the soul.” St Macarius goes on to say that sin became like a member of our soul. It united with our bodily man. It became entwined and mingled with our soul. (Hom XV.35) Evil became the root of our members; our heart was taken over by an opposing and defiant force that gradually spread throughout our nature like a toxin.
We were mortally wounded with an incurable wound, says St Macarius, clothed with a bitter and evil darkness, for we were slaves of the prince of darkness. We became like Lazarus, bearing the same wounds, the same stench, the same darkness (Hom XXX.7); as Isaiah says: we were covered from head to toe with stinking wounds and festering ulcers (Isa 1:6 LXX).
We became spiritual corpses. For, likeness, you could say, is also an essential property of our nature, such that we become like whomever we serve. Sin at its heart is idolatry; denying God to love ourselves. Sin is robbery. We steal the creation from God, which He made beautiful for us, and claim it as our own to satisfy our sensual desires. We steal ourselves from God; for, we are not our own. God made us, we did not make ourselves; we were bought with a price, the price of God’s blood. Believing the serpent’s lie that we would become like God, we stole our likeness to God; for the likeness to God is not ours to take but God’s to give, which He gives to those who open their heart to receive Him in love. Like the idols are those who trust in them, say the prophets: “They have mouths but do not speak, eyes but do not see. They have hands that cannot handle, feet that cannot walk.” (Ps 113:5&7 LXX). And so, we gave our likeness to the serpent and his legions, and we became just like them, dead in the true sense, separated from God (St Maximus, 2nd Cent. On Love §93). Our heart became a tomb (St Macarius, Hom XI.11).
This is biblical imagery; and we see in our Gospel this morning examples of how sin has become embodied in us. Sin isn’t just an immaterial deed. It’s like a virus that cripples and deforms both the soul and the body, until finally, it brings forth death (Jas 1:15): death of the soul by separating us from God, death of the body by separating it from our soul, and then finally from itself as it disintegrates back into the dust.
Thus, to see Jesus going about all the cities and villages, teaching in the synagogues and healing every sickness and every disease among the people is to see more than some miracle-worker healing folks. We believe and confess that He is the Son of God in whom all things, visible and invisible were made. He is the Resurrection and the Life (Jn 11:25). He is the True Light coming into the world.
Even if the mind doesn’t see or understand who Jesus is, the heart of the simple, the heart that is not choked by self-righteousness, leaps within, spontaneously, when she beholds Him going about, even as did the hearts of these two blind men, crying out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us!” For, He is the Holy One of Israel. His very being is Light and radiates Light. He comes in the Spirit who blows where He wills, the Spirit who is by nature like a gentle fragrant wind that inexplicably invigorates the soul with its clean, fresh, let’s say minty scent – although what I have smelled in the myrrh that miraculously drips from certain icons smells something closer to a rose – and fills her with hope, a Light that pierces the gloom and chases away the darkness, filling the heart with a joy she can feel down into her depths, down deeper than what she can see. Even as the prophet says: “For you who fear My Name, the Sun of Righteousness shall rise with healing in His wings, and you shall go forth leaping like calves from the stall!” (Mal 4:1)
For, you understand: He is Light and, if you will, unless He empties Himself, He can’t help but radiate Light so that wherever He goes is illumined with Light. He is the Christ, the Anointed One of the Holy Spirit; He is sweet fragrance itself, so that wherever He goes, He can’t help, as it were, but fill the place with His sweet fragrance.
We could perhaps therefore say that the blind men, even though they couldn’t see, knew He was coming, and knew who He was because they could smell the fragrance of His Spirit; they could feel the warmth of His Light shining gently on them as He drew near. That is, returning to the “Book of Steps,” though they could not see the Savior in His visible form, they could see Him in the invisible depths of their heart.
Why? Because of their faith; that is, going back to last Sunday’s paralytic and his friends, because they wanted to be healed. And, they knew He could heal them because they could smell the sweet fragrance of His uncreated Light that is the Life of the world, they could feel the warmth of His sun on them. And they knew from that, as St Macarius says, that He alone could heal them of their incurable, mortal wound. They knew from that that He is the Son of David of whom the LORD said to My LORD: Sit at My Right Hand until I make your enemies your footstool.
Dear faithful, this same LORD Jesus is in our midst both visibly and invisibly. He is present visibly in this visible Church that we all can see; for this visible Church is the visible form of His Body, which is the Church. But, He is present invisibly, which not everyone can see except those who want to be healed of their spiritual blindness. The healing of His wings comes to us in the prayers, the hymns, the doctrines of His Holy Church; it is given to us as our food and drink in the sacramental mysteries of His Holy Church. All of this means that we are standing in His presence as in His embrace, the embrace of Him who is the Only Lover of Mankind, the Greatly Compassionate One. Somehow, as was the deaf-mute, you have been brought to the Savior this morning. The Holy Mother of God, the holy angels, the saints and martyrs, even those who love us have brought us here to the Savior this morning through their prayers and intercessions, in their love for us.
What if we were to come to our senses here and now, and lay aside all earthly cares in the resolve to descend beneath appearances, into the Church of the heart and into the Empty Tomb of the Savior’s Resurrection, here in the visible form of His invisible presence? Our hearts would give us to see that we are coming into the Light, and we who were mute may find ourselves singing the LORD’s praise in the joy of His love for us. Amen.