7th Sunday After Pentecost / Pilgrimage Reflections
Today’s Gospel tells us about the healing of the blind men and of the man who was mute and demon-possessed. Throughout the Gospels, we hear of the great mercy and compassion of our Lord Jesus Christ as He went about the towns and villages healing all those who were sick and in need. The evangelist Matthew aptly summarizes the work of Christ’s ministry saying: ‘Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.’
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this indeed was our Lord’s work while He walked upon this earth: to teach, to preach the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven, and to heal every sickness and disease among the people. Christ poured Himself out in compassion and in the generous giving of grace to heal and to raise up the people from the sins that bound them, granting instead health and life-giving freedom.
I’ve been reflecting on this verse over the past several days and as I have been processing all of the impressions and blessings that I, and those who traveled with me, experienced during our pilgrimage in Russia over these past few weeks. I’m still trying to sort all of this out, but I’d like to share with you some thoughts that are forming… this Gospel verse that we read today holds a key to much of what was observed.
First of all, I’d like to report that our trip was a great success and over and over again we witnessed the blessing of St John of San Francisco upon our pilgrimage. So many doors and hearts were opened through his prayers!
I have to start by telling you the story of St John’s oil…
Before we left on our pilgrimage, I had to run some errands up in San Francisco and I especially wanted to go to the Cathedral to seek St John’s prayers and blessing for our travels. I went to pray at this relics and asked him to please watch over us and to ask that God would send His grace upon us all as we visited the holy places on our itinerary. Before leaving the Cathedral, I went to the candlestand, intending to buy 20 bottles of St John’s oil to have as gifts during our pilgrimage. I was not able to obtain that many and was a bit disappointed to finally be given just three bottles… but I accepted this and moved on.
Later that day I was visiting Archimandrite James at the Old Cathedral and, after we had had a nice visit and I was prayed for under the mantia of St John, I was unexpectedly given a box with 20 bottles of oil from the lampada of St John! I was overjoyed and felt the grace of St John’s blessing upon our trip.
Well, a few days later, the weekend before I left, I had a couple of baptisms. At one of the baptisms I was approached by someone who was aware of our upcoming pilgrimage. He presented me with a box… in that box was somewhere between 70 and 80 bottles of St John’s oil! So, I ended up being equipped with about 100 bottles of oil as blessings from St John for our pilgrimage!
Those little bottles of oil were amazing ice-breakers at all the churches and holy sites we visited. Everywhere we went, people were not only aware of St John, but loved and revered him deeply. When they found out we were from California, they immediately asked about St John… when I pulled the oil out from my pocket to give to them, eyes were opened wide and not a few were filled with tears of gratitude.
As I said, I am still processing all that we experienced in St Petersburg and Moscow, but one of the things that made a big impression on all of us was the health of those places. I was amazed at how prosperous things appeared, how clean and well run most things seemed to be, how kind and generous the people were, and how clearly evident was the grace of God with so many churches having been renovated or newly constructed. While I acknowledge that our view was very limited in terms of time and depth, it certainly seemed that Russia was thriving!
Among my reflections both while we were there and in the few days since I’ve been home are: How could a nation with people such as this have been so cruel to one another during those Soviet times? What is going on that over the matter of just a few decades there can be such a change in both economic and societal health? And, I was also noticing that so many of the things that I saw and experienced in Russia today were things that I remembered from earlier days here in our own country. For example, as our train pulled in to Moscow from St Petersburg, somewhat corny music began to play over the speakers and announcements were made which were quite patriotic and asked us to gather our belongings and to especially watch out for and care for the children who might be disembarking – that they are the future of the country. It struck me as something I might have heard from my childhood 50 years ago. Why are these things like patriotism, family, and Godliness seeming to be on the rise in Russia, while they seem to be in decline in my own beloved country?
Let us return to the concluding sentence of today’s Gospel: ‘Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.’
The health that was observed there was the result of the presence and embracing of Christ within the society. Christ is being preached and proclaimed openly there and as a result, He is healing sickness and disease among the people.
And this makes me concerned for my country… where we have been systematically removing Christ from the public square and are reaping the results of this in the chaos and confusion so prevalent in our society.
My intention is not to idealize Russia or to be overly critical of America. Part of the problem in all of this is the distraction of polarizing things into us and them. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in the eyes of God, there is only us. And we are each individually and collectively in accordance with God or we are not. The point I want to make here is that where Christ is present, health is restored to a nation and to its people. Where Christ is rejected, the health of a nation and its people declines and will descend into tyranny and terror.
Like everything else in life, it all comes down to Christ.
I have many impressions and still much to think through from our wonderful pilgrimage. We experienced so many blessings at the relics of St Xenia of Petersburg, St John of Kronstadt, St Sergius of Radonezh, Metropolitans Innocent and Philaret of Moscow, the martyred Patriarch Tikhon, the Royal Martyrs, Elder Ambrose of Optina and so many others it makes my head spin to try to take it all in!
I bring back these treasures in my heart and bear witness to the clear joy and triumph of the healing power of our Lord Jesus Christ. May God bless our brothers and sisters in Russia and continue to heal every sickness and disease among the people there. And may God bless and watch over this land, where we are in danger of losing that life-sustaining grace of Christ which bestows health upon a nation and its people. Let us learn from the history of the past century which so clearly shows us the difference of the presence and the absence of Christ. This is true for nations and it is true for each and every one of us.