Mothers Day and the Suffering of Innocents

OrthoAnalyika Show: 9 May 2010

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Happy Mother’s Day! Thanks to all of our mothers – not just those with children of their own, but all the ladies who take the time to love the many children of the world and of this parish family. We need you and we thank God you are here for us.

It is a tough time to be a mother; society is arrayed against those who would raise godly children. So many institutions actively try to break apart the familial bonds and replace them with new forms of bondage – not bonds of love that protect and nurture – but ones that harm and pervert. Moreover, the institutions that used to support and augment the bonds of family (most notably marriage and the local Christian community) are themselves being beaten down, leaving that vital and precious relationship between the mother and her child completely exposed and unprotected.

But whatever happens out there, our mothers must always know that they, their children, and the relationship between them, are safe here. Within THIS community, they will find a secure and loving place to recover from the attacks of the world; a place where their sacrifices for their children are augmented by our own; a place where all the people share the very same hopes and dreams for their children that they have: that they grow up strong in the joy, hope, and love of our Lord Jesus Christ.

[While it is hard to believe, I have been told that this has not always been the case; that their have – in the distant past – been times when parents have been belittled and their children impatiently scolded and scorned. I know that this is the way of the world outside these doors even now; I know that there are places where people think of children as a nuisance, of things that distract adults from the “important business” of foolish pride. But foolish pride has no place here; if we find ourselves distracted, then we must learn to react as Christians. If the sound of children pulls us from our peace and charity, then, do not be foolish and parrot the disciples in today’s lesson by asking “whose sin is this – the child’s or the parents’?” for it is our sin that distracts us… not their’s. “Hinder not the little children” (Mt. 19:14) is a saying that is well known to us; but it is matched by the much more dire warning about something worse than millstones about the neck for those who cause these little ones to stumble (Lk 17:1-2). We all need “quiet time” to pray and worship, but it is best found on our knees every morning and evening and [at the Vespers and Vigils here on Saturdays…]. On Sundays, such solitude is only found in dead and dying parishes; in real living parishes such as this one , Sunday is the time for the “Alleluia’s” of all creation, young and old, spirit and flesh.

So again I commend all of our mothers for their sacrifices towards the raising of godly children, and I rejoice that this community has become (through God’s grace) a place where such mother’s – and especially those in need – are offered a loving, safe, and supportive home.]

Today’s lesson.
Today, I would like to share what this Gospel says to us about sin. This is a difficult lesson – it is the kind of thing that St. Paul calls the “meat” of the Gospel; something that needs to be chewed on for a while, but that ultimately offers great nourishment. Those who still prefer a softer and sweeter diet – the “milk-toast” and “ice cream” of the Gospel, can reassure themselves with the simple truth that God heals the blindness of all those who truly want to see.

But there is a harder point made in today’s Gospel, and it is an important one. It addresses something that is a sore spot even among devout Christians; it is the very point that led Dostoyevsky’s Ivan Karamazov to completely dismiss the goodness of God and to condemn all of His creation. This is, of course, the question of the suffering of the innocent. There are many ways that people have answered this question without adopting Ivan Karamazov’s nihilism – and it would take more than the few minutes to do more than scratch the surface of this important topic (although I must warn you that I consider some of the allegedly “Christian” answers to this question to be far worse than Ivan’s nihilism!); so let me simply make three brief points. They all revolve around the answer to the question I alluded to earlier; when the disciples saw the man who had been born blind, they asked our Lord; “who sinned, him or his parents?”.

Point One: sickness really is the result of sin.
The disciples intuitively got this right. God did not create us to suffer; He created us to grow in perfection; He created us so that as we became more perfect, the world around us would do the same. We rejected this plan and chose our own; we decided that we would rather become more selfish than good. So the world that was created to respond to our goodness instead recoils from and reacts to our wickedness. Sickness is not simply the random effect of genetic mutations. All blights from the mosquito’s bite to childhood leukemia are manifestations of generations of accumulated sin; [they are] the result of the battle we have decided to wage against goodness on the battleground of God’s creation. Innocence becomes a casualty of this great war. So while the disciples misplaced the location of the sin (as Christ says; it is neither the blind man nor his parents that have sinned), they still knew something that our modern materialism misses: sin has consequences, and these consequences accumulate exponentially. Which leads me to the second point.

Point Two: there are no “private sins”.
We were created to live in community. The bonds between us were meant to be based on one thing: love. There is no such thing as “private love”; love is only love when it is shared. This is why prayer works – the love we offer to others even when we are alone works to affect the lives of others (even of those whom we have never met). Physical distance is only one indicator of proximity; the love we share is a much stronger indicator of how close we are than whether or not we happen to be occupying the same general area. So hopefully you recognize that there really is no such thing as private love.

Sin is simply the perversion of love, and it cannot be kept private any more than love can. Hate, apathy, lust, and despondency do more than infect and sicken own hearts – they spread throughout the human community. This is why we suffer so much; our own self-generated sicknesses are matched by all those we catch from the fallen world and community in which we live. The world “groans” in agony, and we groan with it. This is the eternity of hell we would all be destined for were it not for the truth of the last and final point I want to make today.

Point three: Jesus Christ heals our sicknesses, our community, and this suffering world.
He did it with the blind man and with so many others during His earthly ministry. But they are just a drops in a bucket compared to the number of suffering people accumulating throughout creation; but God healed this blind man, as He says so “that the works of God should be revealed in him.” In other words, He healed him so that all of us would know that God’s desire is to heal all of us from the effects of accumulated sin. And instead of a culture that spreads and accumulates sin, He is offering one that spreads and accumulates love. Given what you now know about the public nature of sin and of love, you now have a greater appreciation for the way He is achieving this desire here today.

As a man, Jesus was able to heal those whom He met. But now, as the head of the organism called The Church, He is able to heal all those who join this organic body. The blood that flows through this body is His blood, and the Spirit that animates it is His Spirit. It is the living icon of health and perfection. Hate, divisiveness, lust, despondency, and pride have no home within this body. It is as immune to sin as the bodies of those who are recreated through it at the end times are immune from sickness and decay. All who embrace sin chose to live outside this body and suffer from their choice; but all who reject sin in favor of the life of love find a home in Christ forever.

Why do the innocent suffer? They suffer because of our sin. They suffer because of MY sin. But God does not allow that to be end of the story. He has recreated the innocent in perfection and offers to do the same for us. But in order to make this happen; in order to stop doing damage to everyone and everything around us; we must become part of Christ.

Christianity is not a religion; it is the way we become one with God and one with all those who live in love. Which body would you join yourself to? The healthy one based on love; or the dying one based on selfishness? No one will force you to live well: the choice is always yours. I pray that you choose Christ.


More from today’s lesson: A Case Study of Spiritual Warfare
Acts of the Apostles (16:16-18)

Now it happened, as we [Paul et al] went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling. This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” And this she did for many days. But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And he came out that very hour.

St. John Chrysostom says this about the altercation:

What may be the reason [that the demon spoke well of Paul] and Paul forbade him? Both the one acted maliciously, and other wisely: the demon wished in fact to make himself credible. For if Paul had admitted his testimony, [the demon] would have deceived many of the believers, as being received by him: therefore [the demon] endures to speak what made against himself, that he may establish what made for himself: and so the demon himself uses accommodation in order to destruction. At first then, Paul would not admit it, but scorned it, not wishing to cast himself all at once upon miracles; but when [the demon] continued to do this, and pointed to their work, saying “who preach unto us the way of salvation,” then he commanded [the demon] to come out. …. And why says it, “But Paul being grieved?” It means, he saw through the malice of the demon, as he saith [in his second letter to the Corinthians], “For we are not ignorant of his devices.” (2 Cor. ii. 11.)

What tactics does this demon use to bring people to ruin? Why might these be effective?

Is this method of investigation (i.e. identifying interesting cases and looking at the patristic commentary on them) useful? To what degree might it be misleading?



What are the differences between Catholic and Orthodox weddings?

Why do deacons sometimes wrap their stoles around their bodies?

Did you mean to say that insatiability was a virtue? What about thrift?

“Guess Who” (by way of Orthodixie) on the Samaritan Woman


Church Unity I (North America): pray for our hierarchs as they meet in New York next week! Why might this be different from every previous attempt (e.g. OCA, SCOBA)? Matthew Namee thinks it has a chance because it includes everyone (top to bottom and across the board).

Church Unity II (Ukraine): some push-back from within the UAOC about the dialogue with UOC-MP. Mixed bag – call for admitting past mistakes, balance “patriotism” with an understanding of the “universality of Christ’s Church”. Prefer recognizing Metropolitan Constantine (UOC-USA) and correcting canonical problems that way to ensure its “rescue from the sad fate of being a secret weapon of the Kremlin, destined to self-destruction.” Final quote: “”They are ready even now to enter the canonical jurisdiction of the Permanent Conference of the Ukrainian Orthodox Bishops Outside of Ukraine and accept a bishop appointed for them,” add the members of the All-Ukrainian Brotherhood of St. Andrew the First-Called of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.”

Stop Worrying about the Future (no, it’s not the Sermon on the Mount, it’s from the NYTimes!). Note that, as with last week’s optimistic report, this one says we can hamper things a bit.

Volya Moment.

Check out Mariana’ Karapinka’s column at RISU on “The Reconciliation of Memories”. I would extend her observations about Soviets and Banderists to include Autocephalists, Accommodationists, Uniates, etc. History is complex. People more-so. Charity demands something other than demonization; what do you think Christ meant when He commanded that we “love our enemies”?