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Now, we know that almost everyone gets 70% or so of the sensory information we receive by way of our sight. Therefore, it isn’t hard to understand that, if our eyes are healthy, we are going to see clearly; while if our eyes are not healthy, our vision will be obscured, sometimes to the point of blindness itself. It’s hard to imagine the state of darkness, in the sense of not getting any visual information about the world around us from seeing. You can try it yourself. Go home, put on a blindfold, and then make your way across the room, and through the house. Almost all of us will find that task to be quite a challenge! But is that the point our Lord is making? Surely He is not saying that blindness is caused by being evil!
We need to understand that our Lord often teaches us about spiritual matters by beginning from material things, conditions and situations we will recognize from everyday life. The fathers tell us that this is what is behind this statement of our Lord, about the eye being the lamp of the body. It is not so much about the physical organ of sight as it is about what is sometimes called the “mind’s eye.” Have you ever imagined something so vividly that you could “almost see it?” We possess that capability; it is one way of being like God; it comes from the likeness of God in which we were created. Through this capability – our imagination – we are able to “see” what we desire; we are able to “see” what we fear. This is what our Lord is speaking about. Just as our lives are affected by how well or how poorly we see through the eyes of our body, so, too, is our soul affected by the condition of our mind, for what the eye is to the body, the mind is to the soul. When the powers and abilities of our mind are turned toward God, we are filled with light; but when our minds are turned to worldly desires, we are filled with darkness. As you can probably imagine, trying to walk through your house while blindfolded will be difficult. Can you imagine how dangerous it can be to walk through life with a mind that is in darkness?
Among the saints celebrated today is the holy prophet of God, Amos. He was a shepherd, as were Moses the prophet and David the king before him. A citizen of the southern kingdom of Judah, he was sent by God to the northern kingdom of Israel to pronounce God’s judgment upon them. Amos was sent to tell them that, because of their wickedness, they were going to be conquered by the Assyrians, and the kingdom would be forever destroyed. Now, at the time that Amos brought this message, the kingdom of Israel had experienced an expansion in territory, and the people were living in a time of peace and prosperity; so you can imagine that the message Amos brought them from God was not terribly popular! But the truth was that the people of Israel had departed from the covenant God had made with them. In the midst of prosperity, the poor and needy, the widows and orphans, were neglected and oppressed by the rulers and exploited by the rich. Some of them worshipped pagan idols; while those who appeared to have remained faithful to the worship of God were more focused on the ritual aspects of worship, without their hearts being moved by the remembrance of what God had done for them, and their obligations to love and care for each other. Having satisfied the external requirements of worship, they then went about the rest of the lives as if God was not at all involved, as if they would never have to give an account of their lives. What Amos had foretold came true. The Assyrians conquered the kingdom of Israel, executed many in very brutal ways, and led the rest away into captivity. You’ve heard of the ten lost tribes of Israel? This is what caused those tribes to be lost.
What about us? Do we see any parallels, any reasons to be concerned? Or have we made our minds blind, darkened by our sins? Our Orthodox worship is rich in symbols, deep in meaning – we don’t do anything without a reason, and every word, every movement has significance, and we do well to learn and remember and do these things. But, while these are important, it is easy to forget that it is not the correct performance of these parts of the ritual that is important; it is not by crossing ourselves properly, or any other external aspect of worship, that we are saved. It is how we live, how we treat ourselves, and how we treat others, that matters. If we do not see this, we need to examine our lives, search out our sins, and confess them, and repent, and beg God for the grace to overcome our passions. We need to fast, and to pray; we need to give, and forgive; we need to see everyone else as being an icon, and to be humbled by the knowledge of our own failure to be the person God wants us to be. We need to see the needs and hurts and pains of those around us, and, as we are able, reach out to them and give them what we can, giving from our hearts, with thanks to God for all He has done for us. And if you cannot see what you need to do, ask God to give you light in place of the darkness, so that you may not be lost in captivity to your sins, but instead see the way to dwell in the kingdom of God.
Holy prophet Amos, pray to God for us! Amen.