THOSE WHO HAVE EYES TO SEE...
by Fr. John Dresko
Jesus said, "For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind." (John 9:39)
The story of the Blind Man, which is read every year on the Sixth Sunday of Pascha, was the lesson given to us on the first Sunday after the Canonization of the Blessed St. Alexis of Wilkes-Barre at St. Tikhon's Monastery on May 30, 1994.
We all know the story. Jesus sees the man blind from birth, makes clay by spitting on the dirt and mixing it up, anoints the eyes of the blind man and tells him to wash in the Pool of Siloam. Upon washing, the man can see. This story, and the many other uses of blindness in the Gospels bring us back to the saying from the Prophet Isaiah, which is used many times in the Scriptures:
You shall indeed hear but never understand, and you shall indeed see but never perceive. For this people's heart has grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn for me to heal them. (Isaiah 6:9-10)
Jesus Christ came into the world so that those who cannot see may see, and those who see may become blind. He has said "He who has eyes to see, let him see, and he who has ears to hear, let him hear." This whole concept of the Lord coming to make someone blind or giving sight to those who cannot see is hard to visualize (no pun intended).
But it became very easy to understand and indeed, visualize, to anyone who participated in the Canonization rites of St. Alexis at St. Tikhon's Monastery. There are no human words to use to describe the sights, sounds and feelings of what it meant to be at that liturgy and to witness the declaration of the Church that here was, after all, a man who "fought the good fight and completed the race" while maintaining the Image and Likeness of God which he received at his creation. This man was a Saint!
There are many things about that day I will remember: the awesome sight of the processions; helping to carry the reliquary which held the body of the saint; the smell - we all read that the Metropolitan used rose oil to anoint the relics after their preparation, but the smell was not just "rose," it was something else, and not of this world; the knowledge that his body was essentially incorrupt; the feeling that I had knowing that this saint walked this earth, indeed this country and the land where we stood, just 90 years ago; that he brought back thousands of Orthodox Christians to the Church; knowing that he died, was carried around the church by his brother priests and buried, and then almost 90 years later was carried again by the same line of priesthood. All of these things were simply overwhelming to me.
But the most amazing moment of the day was the "little entrance" of the liturgy. Whenever a priest makes an entrance through the Royal Doors, he blesses the entrance saying, "Blessed is the entrance of Thy Saints..." During this liturgy, the relics of the saint were laid in the center of the church as everyone processed in, and then, at the "little entrance," the relics were taken up, and taken through the Royal Doors, around the altar, and then placed at the side of the iconostasis. That phrase "Blessed is the entrance of Thy Saints..." became alive! The Saint made the entrance and was placed at the side for the remainder of liturgy, guarded by the same line of priesthood to which he belonged. After the liturgy, we processed with the relics back to monastery church, where we got to venerate the new Saint's relics. All of this was almost beyond words.
Very often we get into the day-to-day life of our Church and we see things that are obvious. After 200 years in this country, we are still a small Church. We are still struggling, we are not growing in leaps and bounds. Everywhere else, all sorts of different people with different messages, distortions of the Christian message, are bringing in all sorts of people. New churches are built in three months simply because the leaders said they needed the building and asked the people for the money. We, on the other hand, seem to limp along and struggle. There are parishes in our Church that struggle to live day-to-day. There are parishes that seem to be constantly in turmoil. We can, if tempted, look at the Church and become depressed and say, "What in the world is going on? When is the Lord going to come and put an end to all of this?"
But then, God puts in front of us the chance to see something like this to see the canonization of a saint. A saint who was the contemporary of some people still living in our churches today. He is a Saint, a source of God's grace and glory and he stood (and stands) in the middle of our Church! We saw him; we touched him; and we kissed him! He is a sign to us, if we can but see, that as long as the Church is the Body of Christ, there is nothing dead about it. And ultimately, that is the sum of the images of that Day of Canonization there was a body, there was a casket, but there was no death! Nothing that day, absolutely nothing, smelled or even hinted of death. The only thing you sensed there was life. The Church was alive, the pilgrims were alive, St. Alexis, even though we carried him, was more alive than us! He is alive in God and alive in Christ.
But at the same time that all these feelings and images were swirling around in my heart and my mind that morning, there was another image. There were many Orthodox Christians, some only a few miles from St. Tikhon's Monastery, who couldn't be bothered to come to the service and witness a once-in-a-lifetime event. The canonization made no difference. It was just another service with lots of people and it would be hot! It was a strong temptation I felt it at 5:00 a.m. when my alarm went off. Why use up the only day off this month by spending it in church? Many gave in to the temptation. There was a camera crew there from one of the local stations filming for the evening news. A reporter was taking lots of notes. The cameramen focused on the body of the saint, zoomed in on a venerable monk saying prayers quietly with his eyes closed, oblivious to their filming. They filmed everything that they thought was "quaint." They were trying to figure out just what the fuss was about; just what we were doing! What or where is the source of joy that all of the people jammed into that pavilion obviously shared? And, if you paid attention, you "could see" that they "couldn't see!!" As I looked at them and then looked at the relics, I understood what Jesus meant when He said "...those who see may not perceive, and those who hear may not understand."
Everyone who was there that day "seeing" with the eyes of their heart saw what God wanted them to see. They saw the gift of LIFE that God promised to His Church. Almost 2000 years ago, Jesus promised that "the gates of hell shall not prevail against [the Church]." Our canonization of St. Alexis, and the canonization of future saints (and that is assured) is proof that God will raise up someone whenever the Church is in danger. No matter how small we get, no matter how weak we feel, God will raise up someone, a vessel of the Spirit, who will show us that His Kingdom is present here and now in our Church and will make the Church strong.
But not everyone who was there that day could see that. And not everyone who is even in the life of the Church today can see that. The Blind Man in St. John's Gospel was not blind, for he recognized (or "saw") the Messiah. The ones who did not recognize the Messiah, the leaders of the church who called in the formerly blind man for a "high-level inquest" about this "purported miracle" were the blind men. They questioned the young man, his parents, the witnesses. What happened? When? How? Again and again and again. They did not want to see. And that's the whole point. One can be completely immersed in the life of the Church, even go to the Sacraments, approach and venerate the relics of a saint, and be "blinder" than the one blind from birth. The only way to truly "see" is to look with the eyes of our heart.
In the canonization of St. Alexis, anyone who could see what God wanted them to see saw that the Church is always alive. It is more alive in the body and bones of that saint than in those of us walking around in our sins each day. It is alive because it is the Body of Christ and Christ is risen. It is alive because it is filled with the Holy Spirit. Anyone who doubts this can go to St. Tikhon's Monastery, go before that reliquary, bow down, pray and then venerate the relics, and they will see this truth if they have the eyes to see.
O Holy Father Alexis, pray to God for us!
(Transcribed and adapted from a sermon given on June 5, 1994)