In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!
Now the Holy Church proclaims to us the Gospel of the Savior’s healing of ten lepers.
The Lord Jesus Christ was going to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover. At then entrance of one of the villages, He was met by ten lepers.
It was impossible to look without compassion upon these unfortunates, because leprosy is a terrible and contagious disease, which was widespread in those days, causing immense suffering.
Those afflicted by this terrible disease were covered with fetid ulcers. The bodies of the sufferers were subjected to rot and decay. Parts and members of their bodies rotted and fell off. Their faces were made unrecognizable.
These unfortunates, besides their unbearable physical sufferings, also experienced bitter moral torments, for according to the Law of Moses they had to show themselves to the priests who, establishing the validity of the leprosy, had to declare them unclean. Then they were cast out from society, did not have the right to live in cities and towns, and were forced to wander in deserted areas, not even having the right to drink water from rivers and other public bodies of waters, in order to avoid infecting them.
This is why these ten living dead men, expelled and rejected by all, did not dare to approach Christ but, believing in His power to heal them, called out from a distance: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” The Lord, showing mercy upon them, said: Go, show yourselves to the priests, for only the priests, according to the same Law of Moses, had the right to declare them clean again and to return them to life in society.
Further, the Holy Evangelist Luke relates how, walking along, they were cleansed. Imagine these sufferers, who were doomed to slow decay, who had been rejected by parents, mother, father, children, friends, and society as a whole. They had lost hope for recovery, wandering in rags in desert places.
Imagine them going to Jerusalem, according to the Lord’s word, to show themselves to the priests and noticing that the stench of their ulcers had suddenly disappeared, their pain had subsided, their rotted members had been restored, and they had become normal people, full of strength and health.
Without doubt, the miracle of their healing and the joyful sense of life that always accompanies the restoration of health, gave them the ability to experience vividly the omnipotence of Jesus.
There were healthy, they were clean, and they were brought back to life with all its joys.
It would seem that a natural sense of justice should have encouraged them to return immediately to their Benefactor and – from all their heart, filled with joy and happiness – give thanks to Him for their healing, for the miraculous restoration of their live, and to bring Him love and devotion. And, undoubtedly, the Lord would have accepted their feelings and shone a new light of His grace upon them.
However, the Gospel proclaims that only one of them, seeing himself being healed, returned and, with a loud voice, glorified God and fell at His feet, glorifying Him – and a Samaritan at that.
How touching this Samaritan is; how close to our hearts he is. How good he is in his reverent and saving delight when, seeing himself healed, he did not doubt or hesitate, but hurried to his Savior, glorifying God with a loud voice and now lying prostrate at the feet of his Healer, of his Lord, with tender and filial love thanking Him with his heart and giving Him praise.
Oh, doubtlessly the Lord rejoiced in spirit at the acquisition of this new, once lost sheep.
However, only one of those healed returned to Christ.
But what about the rest?
But the others left Him, perhaps forever.
The Lord grieves over these ten and His grief is meekly expressed in the words: Were not ten healed? But where are the nine? For, if after being healed, in the first minutes of joy did not remember Him, would they remember Him after they had returned to their previous vain lives, to carnal pleasures and cares?
We will not look for the causes of this callous ingratitude of the nine healed Jews. Let us look to ourselves alone with our conscience, honestly comparing ourselves with the men who had been healed.
Do we, at least to some small degree, resemble the thoughtful and grateful Samaritan who fell at the Savior’s feet?
No, of course not!
We are followers of those nine ungrateful Jews and, along with them, we do not thank the Lord for His great goodness and all-good Providence for us sinners.
For the gifts and mercies that the Lord has shown us, the unworthy, are innumerable.
The Lord called us out of non-being, creating us according to His Image and Likeness.
The Lord granted us the greatest divine gift: free will.
He gave us the opportunity of endless perfection, of growing closer to our Creator.
But when we had abused these gifts and voluntarily surrendered to evil, having become enslaved to the devil, God sent His Only-Begotten Son for the redemption of our sins at a precious cost: the cost of His Blood.
If only we would repent!
The Lord has granted us countless earthly, physical, and spiritual goods, leading us by His divine providence to salvation.
We observe the Savior’s good Providential Right Hand in our everyday life, indeed at every step.
Even the fact that we find ourselves in this prosperous and free country; even the fact that we are here in church and present at the Divine Liturgy – is a great mercy of God.
Do we fall down like the grateful Samaritan at the feet of the Savior and commend Him with praise?
But God does not love the ungrateful.
In the Epistle that was read today, the Holy Apostle Paul speaks of the necessity of giving thanks to God, who has called us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light; He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the Kingdom of His beloved Son, in Whom we have redemption through His Blood and the forgiveness of sins.
In Holy Scripture we find many more places that speak of the necessity of giving thanks to the Lord for all things.
Thus, the Apostle Paul, in his Epistle to the Philippians says: But in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God (Philippians 4:6); and to the Ephesians: Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:20). Addressing the Thessalonians, the Holy Apostle writes: In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
Thus, one should give thanks unto the Lord not only for joy and pleasure, but also for the sorrows – which are sometimes very grievous – that are sent to us.
For it is by many tribulations that we enter the Heavenly Kingdom.
If we will consider the sorrows that are sent to us in this sense and humbly bear them for the Lord’s sake, offering up thanksgiving for them in prayers, then afflictions, too, will bring spiritual joy.
I recall the late Hieromonk Nikon, who was arrested by the Bolsheviks in Optina and exiled to Turkestan. Suffering from tuberculosis, weak, frail, and emaciated; having undergone beatings, slander, and a cruel, unjust, evil, and deceitful trial; having been sent to this hot region to hard labor – he, this hieromartyr, wrote to his friends that he was boundlessly, with all his heart, grateful to God that He had permitted him to endure this suffering for His Holy Name’s sake.
He wrote that the commandment Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven (Matthew 5:11-12) applied directly to him, and that he bore all these sufferings according to Christ’s commandments in great spiritual joy and spiritual gladness.
Indeed, we are infinitely far from such holy people, for we are weak in spirit, and do not even dare think of such grace.
We should accept the sorrows that are sent to us meekly and submissively, as deserved; moreover, we should realize that we deserve even greater sorrows for our truly grave sins before God.
Thus, we are truly far from the Samaritan who returned to give thanks unto the Lord. If we give it careful thought, we will see that we are much worse than even those ungrateful Jews who, nonetheless, cried out to the Master Jesus with faith to have mercy on them.
After all, we are all even more afflicted with the leprosy not of the body, but even worse: of the soul.
Our soul is entirely covered with foul ulcers from the fall and countless sins and transgressions.
Our spiritual members are rotten: for pride, self-opinion, gluttony, love of money, malice, fornication, unrighteousness, breaking of the fast, and violations of all God’s commandments have so entered into our everyday life, that we hardly even notice them, and they do not weigh on us.
And how far are we from the ten lepers, for we do not cry out with them: Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!
But the Lord meekly awaits our cry and our repentance, and His Holy Church has established holy fasts for this.
Here three weeks of the Nativity Fast have already passed, but we do not notice them. There is still time. The Feast of the Nativity of Christ is approaching. Let us make use of the remaining time, which is favorable for repentance. Let us cleanse our conscience from sinful leprosy by repentance and let us sanctify our soul through the reception of the All-Pure Body and Life-Creating Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ; let us live in constant spiritual watchfulness, for no one knows at what hour the Lord will call each one of us.
When the hour of death approaches us, in which will be the summing up of the fruitless lives we have led, and we are on our deathbed; in the hour of death we will recognize the true worth of the sorrows we have experienced and will give thanks under the Lord for them – for the sorrows, for we have no personal ascetic struggles, we have no virtues, but we will hope that the sorrows we have endured will cleanse our sins and propitiate the Righteous Judge at the Dread Judgment.
Let us follow the call of the Savior and the call of the Church. Let us give thanks unto the Lord for his great mercies for our sins: for the joys and sorrows, for the illnesses and even for the grievous bereavements.
Falling at His feet, bringing as a gift to the Child Who desired to be born thanksgiving, repentance, and love – and only after that humility – with warm tears of compunction let us offer heartfelt prayer not only for our own needs, but in the first place for the healing of our Motherland – the grievously-suffering, covered with festers, and the unprecedented leprosy of Communism – calling out with her oppressed children: Jesus, Master, have mercy on us and may the Lord grant us to feel in our hearts the Divine and quiet voice of the Sweetest Jesus: Go, thy faith hath made thee whole. Amen.