May 10, 2023

Homily for the Epistle Reading of Mid-Pentecost (St. Luke of Simferopol)

By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

(Delivered on May 14, 1952)

You know little of the Slavic language and do not listen well to the apostolic reading, but the current reading from the Acts of the Apostles deserves deep attention and reasoning.

Listen to it in Russian, listen to every word.

“In Lystra, a certain man, who could not control his legs, sat lame from his mother’s womb, and never walked. He listened to Paul speaking, who, looking at him and seeing that he had faith to receive healing, said with a loud voice: 'I say to you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ: stand up straight on your feet.' And he immediately jumped up and began to walk. But the people, seeing what Paul had done, raised their voice, saying in Lycaonian: 'The gods have come down to us in human form.' And Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. The priest of the idol of Zeus, whose temple was in front of their city, having brought oxen to the gate and brought wreaths, wanted to make a sacrifice together with the people” (Acts 14:8-13).

This is the first narration in the Acts of the Apostles about the healing by the holy apostles of the unfortunate cripple, who from his mother's womb could not walk, was paralyzed, had withered legs, twisted and unfit for walking.

You have heard that such a person was healed in the pagan city of Lystra by the holy apostles Paul and Barnabas.

Now let's listen to another story in the 3rd chapter of the Acts of the Apostles about a similar healing of the same crippling disease by the holy apostles Peter and John:

“Now Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms from those who entered the temple; who, seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked for alms. And fixing his eyes on him, with John, Peter said, 'Look at us.' So he gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. Then Peter said, 'Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.' And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. So he, leaping up, stood and walked and entered the temple with them — walking, leaping, and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God. Then they knew that it was he who sat begging alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. Now as the lame man who was healed held on to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the porch which is called Solomon’s, greatly amazed. So when Peter saw it, he responded to the people: 'Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this? Or why look so intently at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go. But you denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses. And His name, through faith in His name, has made this man strong, whom you see and know. Yes, the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.'” (Acts 3:1–16).

See how the pagans reacted to the same great miracle, and how the Jews and their leaders, the high priests, the scribes, the Pharisees, reacted.

The dark pagans, who did not know the true God, but honored their false gods, were shocked by the miracle of healing from birth of a lame man, which was performed by the holy apostles Paul and Barnabas.

They were so amazed and shocked that they decided that these were not ordinary people, but the gods themselves, descended from heaven in human form.

It was a lot of work for Paul and Barnabas to prevent the blasphemous sacrifice to them - they tore their clothes, rushed into the crowd and began to persuade them: "We are the same people as you - why do you want to sacrifice to us!?" And they could hardly, hardly be persuaded not to make sacrifices.

And how did the chief priests, Pharisees and scribes react, how did the Jews react to the same miracle performed by the apostles Peter and John?

They reacted differently: part of the people was imbued with the same deep faith, the same enthusiasm and excitement as the pagans of the city of Lystra, while the other part reasoned differently.

They reasoned as we read in the Gospel of Saint John the Theologian: “There were many rumors about Him among the people: some said that He was good, while others said no, but He deceives the people” (John 7:12).

It was spoken by ordinary Jews. Among them there were many who were not impressed even by this great miracle, whose hearts were not touched by even the greatest miracle, who considered the Lord Jesus Himself and His apostles not to be good people, but to be deceivers who deceive the people.

The leaders of the people reacted much worse to the apostles: instead of falling at their feet, as people who had performed the greatest miracle, they demanded an answer from the apostles, by what authority they did this, and who allowed them. They ordered the apostles to be arrested and put them in prison for the night, and in the morning they brought them to the Sanhedrin, there they vilified in every possible way and demanded that they not perform miracles in the name of Christ, that they should not preach about the name of Christ. They threatened them with heavy punishments if they continued their preaching.

And the humiliated apostles were released, and they thanked God for being worthy of dishonor for the name of their Savior.

Well, how are we to explain such a different attitude of people to the greatest miracles of Christ, to the miracles of the apostles?

Why did the Lycaonian pagans accept the healing of the cripple by Christ's apostles Barnabas and Paul with such childish delight, with such enthusiastic faith, that they even considered them to be gods, and wanted to sacrifice to them? Because the hearts of these people, who did not know the True God, thirsted for faith, and in this thirst they created idols for themselves in the form of many pagan gods.

These pagans were like little children in their religious ignorance, but they had hearts that could not be prevented from being delighted and amazed at the sight of a perfect miracle.

And what prevented the leaders of the people of Israel from also accepting the miracle performed by the apostles Peter and John? Why did they become hardened instead of being touched and, having come to joy, glorify God, glorify the apostles? Why was a part of the common people set up the way they were? Why didn't they all as one bow before Peter and John, seeing the perfect miracle? What prevented these people from accepting with childlike trustfulness, with deep reverence and with uplifting glory to God, a great miracle? Why did the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees become hardened? Why were the great miracle workers imprisoned, and mocked at, and forbidden to work miracles in the name of Christ and preach about His holy and divine name? Because there was something in their hearts and in their minds that fenced them off from the truth, something that blinded them, prevented them from accepting the miracles of Christ and the miracles of the apostles with childlike credulity.

What hindered them, what polluted and filled their hearts with black darkness? That is why they could not be childlike with full confidence in the miracles of Christ and the apostles, therefore they could not accept with a pure heart the great Divine teaching of the Savior, therefore they were at enmity right up to the blood, until the crucifixion of our Righteous Savior on the cross, because they had their own faith, did not want the one that Jesus Christ brought: their faith was a lifeless faith in the letter of the Old Testament, in the letter of the ancient Mosaic law.

Above all else in the world they put the dead letter: their religion was reduced to rituals and sacrifices, burnt offerings, to cleansing their bodies and their clothes, to washing benches, mugs and tables. In this they saw the whole force of religion, in this they sought salvation.

Their spirit was alien to that Divine spirit, with which all the sermons, all the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ were full.

They were hostile to Christ, for He preached something new, much higher and deeper than their ritual faith.

Their petrified hearts, alien to love, could not contain the words of Christ about love for the whole world, they could not ignite in spirit.

Of course, each person highly values his faith, does not allow anyone to touch it, shake it, much less destroy it: different people have many different faiths, not only religious beliefs.

You need to know that all unbelieving people live their own special, non-religious faith. They create their own teachings, teachings about how the life of the state and society should be arranged, how relations between different peoples should be arranged, how the life of each person should be arranged, how relations between individuals should be arranged.

They live by this faith, and no one dares to touch it, because no one can live without faith. And if we protect our Christian faith, then everyone who created his own faith protects it, and therefore he is hostile to other faiths, unlike the one he professes. Therefore, many are hostile to our religious faith.

You see, the leaders of the people of Israel had their own dead faith: they lived by the letter of the law, and not by its spirit. The spirit of the law was alien to them, but they valued the letter of the law, their faith just as much as we value our faith in Christ.

That is why they were hostile to the new faith preached by the Lord Jesus Christ, that is why they were deaf, dumb, petrified, seeing the miracles of Christ and His apostles; that is why they put the apostles Peter and John in prison because they healed a man who had not walked from his mother's womb.

See what important conclusions can be drawn from these two passages of the Acts of the Apostles, which have just been heard.

For ourselves, what conclusion will we draw now, comparing the attitude of the Gentiles and the attitude of the Jews to the same thing - to the same miracle of healing the lame from birth?

If my explanation is correct, then we must be very careful about any foreign faith and always remember that a person is very hurt if his faith is touched. This is the first thing, and secondly, it is necessary to deeply affirm the thought that our holy Christian dogmas are inviolable, like the greatest shrine.

Someone else's faith should never be touched, not to speak about believers not like you in rude mocking words. The Lord did not give them a heart open to the preaching of Christ, they created their own faith, so let them live in this faith.

And we will treat with respect any other faith, even if it is far from our own. Let us be sensitive to what is happening in the hearts of people whose faith someone rudely or carelessly offends.

Treat with care any foreign faith, never humiliate, do not insult. Treasure your one true holy faith, in which may our Lord and God Jesus Christ strengthen us. To Him be Glory and Power with His Most Holy Father and His Life-Giving Spirit. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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