By Archbishop Mark of Germany and Great
Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whale of whatsoever disease he had. And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years. When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, He saith unto him, “Wilt thou be made whole? The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled to put me into the pool: but while I am coming another steppeth down before me. Jesus saith unto him. Rise, take up thy bed and walk And immediately the man was made whole, and wok up his bed and walked... (John 5:2-9)
Earlier we heard the Gospel account about the Lord's appearing to His disciples, and today it is as if we are stepping down to the physical level, as we hear about the healing of the paralytic. Why did the Church choose such a story for these Paschal days? We find the answer to this question in today's Gospel reading, when the Lord asks the paralytic, "Wilt thou be made whole?"  Here the Lord speaks about that which you and I have largely forgotten, about the unity of our spiritual and physical being.
In the Gospel reading for the first Sunday after Pascha, the Lord appears to the disciples, walking through dosed doors and showing His wounds to Apostle Thomas that he might be convinced. Here the spiritual and physical are present together. When in today's reading the Lord asks the paralytic, "Wilt thou be made whole?" He makes us stop and think about the meaning of healing. To be healed, to become well, means to become whole. In Slavonic this meaning is preserved. "Wilt thou be made whole?" means: Do you want your spirit, your spiritual essence to be rejoined to your physical essence? For every illness is the result of the rupture of these two spheres, which in human life ought to be united. When this oneness in man is severed, he loses God in himself, and also loses his true self. And because of this he is paralyzed in all respects: he cannot move -- which means that he cannot go towards his Lord.
''Wilt thou be made whole?" Here is a question that pertains to all of us, and we can learn from the example of this paralytic how to attain this wholeness.
In order for him to have lain by the pool for thirty-eight years, he had to have had firm hope in the Lord. We live by hope, but hope is never firm without the presence of two other virtues that we need in order to form that trinity which will lead us to salvation, that is, a oneness of faith, hope, and love. The Lord Himself gave us this trinity in order that on this foundation we might draw near to Him and strengthen ourselves in that theanthropic oneness which was given to us when God became man.
Through faith, hope and love, we have been given the possibility of drawing near to God, of receiving Him into ourselves, into our hearts in order to realize through this trinity our oneness with Him. Certainly the paralytic had faith, otherwise he would not have come to the pool. Certainly he had love for God, otherwise he would not have awaited healing from Him. But he was deprived of the love of his neighbor for, as he himself acknowledged, he had "no man" to put him into the pool when the angel troubled the water. And this is likewise an indication of the paralytic's own lack of love for his neighbor.
He has hope, for only through hope has he been able to hold on all these years, waiting to be healed by God. But how often, dear brothers and sisters, do we despair of our hope, in spite of all the assurances we have been given in times past. How often we grow despondent when things do not turn out as we anticipated, when the Lord sends us new trials. How often we despair, when our plans fall through and the Lord guides our life along His paths. In this case, dear brothers and sisters, we can be saved by another virtue, which is necessary to a Christian. This is boldness. With boldness we can turn to the Lord and only to Him, although it is difficult on a human level not to fall here into brazenness, which we must avoid.
We pray with boldness, remembering that no one desires our salvation more than God Himself, and therefore we pray that the Lord accept us in spite of our sins. And God condescends to our infirmities just as He condescended to the infirmities of the paralytic, and He wants to remind us that we should be whole.
On this path of prayer, boldness leads us towards the Lord. On this foundation we can always turn to the Lord and receive true healing. But on this path, dear brothers and sisters, as Saint Isaac of Syria teaches, we must first of all cleanse ourselves. For a heart that is not cleansed cannot possess true boldness. It can only be filled with brazenness. Likewise, we can have boldness only when we strive to do everything according to God's will. Thereby we cleanse our conscience and our heart, as also our body, for we are created as whole beings, who are placed on the path of the Lord, the path of our salvation.
And so, dear brothers and sisters, let us strive in our lives towards being made whole, which the Lord alone can accomplish within us. With boldness and hope, let us turn to Him, that He might hear our weak prayers, that He grant us cleansing, that we might become true children of His love, His merciful kindness, His omnipotence, which alone can overcome our sloth.
May 1996 (Translated from Pravoslavnaya Rus', No. 8, 1996.)
 The same etymological relationship that exists in Russian between istselitsa - "to be healed," and tseli. "whole," exists in English; "whole" and "heal" are both derived from the same Anglo-Saxon root (best preserved in the word "hale"). The NKJV, in using “well” instead of "whole" in this and similar passages (cf Matt. 9:22), obscures its essential meaning.
Subscribe (and order back issues) to
Order Books from Orthodox America
If you note problems with this site, please contact the Webmaster
© 1998-2006 by Nikodemos Orthodox Publication Society