Sermon on Matt 9:27-35.
I’m going to tell you the same thing this year that I told you last year about this gospel. But I’ll try to say the same thing in different words. You don’t want to hear the same words two years in a row. We like a little more spice than that. Otherwise, we wouldn’t need a sermon at all.
The gospel itself says what needs to be said – and says it better than any preacher, even if his mouth is made of gold and his words are like pearls. So let’s not get any wrong ideas, the sermon has a place, but its place is beneath the proclamation of the Gospel. It’s like the placement of the candle or the lamp before the holy icon.
There’s no question here of the relative importance. The icon is what matters most. The flame is there to give living light to the icon. Likewise, a sermon, if it is any good, illuminates the gospel. If the sermon is no good, that’s unfortunate but thanks be to God the gospel continues to shine with its own light.
Likewise, the icons are filled with an interior light. I don’t know if you’ve studied the icons too much, but if you compare them to classical images, or to images produced during and after the Renaissance in the West, you can observe a significant difference with regard to the lighting. The figures in an icon are illuminated almost as it from within. The light shines from within them, rather than from a chosen external source or sources. When you study Western painting, one of the things you have to master is choosing and remaining consistent to a light source. And when you study Eastern iconography, you have to forget what you learned from Western painting. Anyway, that is the case if, like me, you were first trained in a western-style and then moved on to iconography.
But you see, the point of this is, the icon shines with its own light, and the gospel shines with its own light, yet the candle helps us to see the icon, and gives it a living pulsing warmth, and the sermon, if it is any good, does the same for the gospel.
Anyway, I haven’t gotten around to repeating myself yet. Here is what I would like to repeat, we can learn a lot about how to pray from these two blind men who follow after Jesus, saying “Have mercy on us, son of David!” I’m going to say again, like I said last year, that this is one of the roots of the Jesus prayer.
Yes, Father, we know. You told us that last year, and we would never forget what you said from one year to the next.
Nevertheless, some things are worth repeating. And one of those things is the Jesus Prayer. Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me the sinner.
You can hear an echo of this, I think, pretty clearly in the prayer of the two blind men. They have the right idea: follow after Jesus, call out to him and say, have mercy on us! This is the way of life. Jesus is the way and he is the life.
“My advice to both the young and the elderly is for each one of you to make a prayer rope. Hold it with your left hand, and as you make the sign of the Cross with your right hand, say: Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” Those are not my words. They are the words of Saint Kosmas of Aitolos.
It’s hard to overstate the simplicity of this discipline of this Prayer. When I have suggested it to some, they have protested but they don’t know how to do this prayer. They said, we’re familiar with the rosary, but we don’t know how to pray this chotki. This baffles me. Because, while the Rosary is a lovely private Roman Catholic prayer devotion, it’s actually quite a bit more complicated than the chotki, or prayer rope.
Allow me to explain how we pray the chotki. On the each of the knots, we repeat the prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God have mercy on me, the sinner.” If this is too much, you can simply say “Lord Jesus, have mercy.” You now know how to pray the chotki.
So do it. Pray it every single day. Get yourself a small 33 knotted one for starters, rather than one of those that goes on for miles. Then when you pray that daily without fail, maybe consider moving up to one with 50 knots, or a hundred knots, or then 200 knots. Or don’t. So long as you continue to pray.
The mysticism surrounding this practice has left some mystified to the extent that they do not attempt to pray this prayer. And that is a tragedy. Remember the simplicity of this prayer and keep to it, even when you hear of the mystical experiences it has transported others into. Even if you do not yourself have these mystical experiences, at least not yet.
The experience we mainly hear of is the seeing of the uncreated Taboric light. That is, the light with which Jesus shone at his Transfiguration on Mount Tabor. The light of God made visible to men. After all, we are praying to the one who is light, like the blind men who prayed to him and were given light by him with which to see.
When we called out repeatedly to the light of all for mercy, it is no wonder he fills us with his light. Remember how I spoke before about the icons shining with an internal light. A light coming from within. Our whole purpose in life is to become one with Jesus, who is the light of all, and to be filled with his light. We are all called to holiness. The halos in the icons are meant for your heads as well as for those who are already in glory. But we cannot fashion our own halos. And the light shining from within the holy ones in the icon is the light of Christ.
So how do we join them in this blessedness? One way I know is to humble ourselves before our creator and to call out to him again and again without ceasing, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me the sinner.”
The best things are worth repeating, like the gospel, which we repeat each year.
Let us never stop repeating the Jesus prayer, not even for a moment. Let us repeat the prayer of Jesus as often as our hearts beat. May our lips ceaselessly and prayerfully murmur the name of Jesus as we go about our day. And he will fill our lives with his light and drive out every darkness. Though we have been blind, he will make us to see.