How do you see the world? When you read or watch the news, or talk about events, whether national, international, or local, what do you see? Do you see the glory of God in creation? Do you see God’s mercy and protection through the course of your day? Do you see God’s love in action, especially in the love you share with others, and the love of others for you?
Chances are, these aren’t the things we see – at least, not without being prompted. If someone mentions these things, of course, we can see them. But for most of us, it’s not “natural” for us to be aware of the grace and mercy and love of God as we go through the course of our day. When it comes to seeing the things of God, most of us are blind, as blind as the man who sat by the road near Jericho.
Bartimaeus was blind, and so he could not see our Lord as He traveled the Jericho road. But the blind man heard the commotion, and knew something out of the ordinary was happening. He asked, and when he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by, he called out for mercy, for this blind man knew that Jesus is the Messiah, the one God promised would come to save His people. Nor would he be silent, but continued to call until the Lord had the blind man brought to Him. And when Bartimaeus asked for the ability to see, our Lord healed him, and he could see.
Because the eyes of our bodies function, we think we can see; but we do not realize that we are spiritually blind. Maybe if we knew that what often troubles us is the commotion in our souls as the Lord draws near, we would also cry out for mercy, and draw near to the Lord to be made whole. But we miss the chance, and so nothing changes.
Today, we also celebrate the Chains of St. Peter. King Herod, having ordered the death of St. James, the brother of our Lord, had cast St. Peter into prison, bound in chains between two soldiers; but when an angel of the Lord entered the cell, filling it with light, the chains fell from St. Peter, and, obedient to the angel’s command, he left the cell, and returned to the faithful, who had been praying for his safety, and for his return.
We are also bound with chains. We are chained to this life, and to this world, by our passions; and because we are not free from the chains of our passions, we sin, and it is our sin that blinds us to the things of God, blinding us to the vision of heavenly things. Brothers and sisters, this should not be.
Fasting is a step to removing the chains that bind us to this world and this life. Fasting teaches us obedience. Fasting weakens our flesh, and its grip on worldly things. Fasting teaches us restraint, so that we can also restrain our sinful impulses and desires. Fasting is a necessary part of the Orthodox life.
Giving is a step to removing the chains that bind us. When we give, we set ourselves free from grasping the things of this life, things that will perish, things that only give the illusion of permanence, and of being able to satisfy us. When we give, we acknowledge that we are not the masters and rulers of our lives, but stewards of the good gifts that God has entrusted to us to use in His service. Giving weakens our flesh, and its grip on worldly things. Giving is a necessary part of the Orthodox life.
The single greatest weapon in our spiritual warfare is prayer. Bartimaeus prayed for mercy, and received his sight. The Church prayed for the safe release and return of St. Peter, and he was set free. Prayer brings us into the presence of God, as the blind man was brought into the presence of our Lord. Prayer brings our guardian angel to our side, and to our defense. Prayer is a necessary part of the Orthodox life.
Brother and sisters, would you be set free? Do you desire to see heavenly things? Then we must pray, and fast, and give, and struggle. Let us pray that God will have mercy on us, and take from us our spiritual blindness, that we may see Him, and glorify God. And let us pray that God will save His people, and set them free; let us pray, as we do again and again, “Help us, save us, have mercy on us, and keep us, O God, by Thy grace.” In this way, our chains will fall off, and we shall be free to love and serve the Lord. In this way, our eyes will be opened, and we will see the glory of God. Let us, then, live the Orthodox life, to the glory of God, and the salvation of souls.