Miracles have been continually recorded in Scripture and the Tradition of the Church. They are of course performed by Christ and many of his saints, indeed they continue to the present day. Sometimes they follow the intercessions of the saints or when venerating relics or particular icons. God works miracles by His power and when material objects are used these become channels of grace. St Cyril of Alexandria once wrote:
“For every created being whatsoever that is endued with power, whether of healing, or the like, possesses it not of itself, but as a thing given it by God. For to the creature all things are given, and wrought in it, and of itself it can do nothing.”
The whole of creation is a miracle in the sense that it shows God’s glory. The complex and beautiful natural cycles which sustain us and all life are amazing and we ought to thank God and give Him praise for the way the Universe is ordered. It is central to our faith that Creation was not only created by God but also continues in existence because God wills it and sustains it.
“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Hebrews 1:3)
The energies of God are found throughout all creation and yet some events and miracles are special. One way to think about them is a concentration of the energies of God in a special time and place. (Children’s Illustration) Light is everywhere but when concentrated it shows us much more. In the same way the energies of God are found throughout creation but when concentrated they are shown in miracles and in the glorification of the saints which we call theosis or deification. Deification was explained recently in a sermon when the glorified human being was described in terms of a poker being plunged into a fire until it glowed with the same energy. So it is with the saints who shine with God’s very own glory. This is why they can work miracles.
God’s grace works through many things, but we must in turn respond. It is essential that we have faith. Our expectation, openness and faith makes all things possible according to God’s will and action. God will not force us to accept anything, but if we are open to His actions then He can and will act. Sometimes we rely on the faith of others and their prayers. The servant of the centurion was healed after the prayerful request of his master who approached Christ with expectant faith. Christ uses these pertinent words in today’s Gospel reading: “Your faith has made you well”.
Faith requires right action for its completion. Doing what God requires demonstrates to us and to God that we are believing and obedient. In today’s Gospel, the lepers are healed when they obey the order to go and show themselves to the priests as required by the law. Obedience, then, to God is central to all healing. It is not certain whether the lepers were actually healed before they left to go and show themselves to the priests: perhaps not. It seems much more likely that it was when they obeyed and showed their faith that they were healed.
The action of the men in going to the priests was significant because it shows that Christ acted in the context of the Law. It is easy to dismiss the Old Testament Law as being some sort of primitive system rendered useless by the coming of Christ. In fact Christ recognised that the Law gave people a framework for living out their relationship with God and cooperating with His plan. St Paul rightly called the Law a teacher (Galatians 3:24). Christ operated within the Law as far as He could although He gave greater emphasis to its underlying principles. This led him to challenge inflexible application of the rules, for example in the issue of Sabbath observance.
In the Gospel, Christ insisted that the lepers fulfil the exact requirements of the Law. Leprosy was after all a serious social issue. The lepers became untouchables hence, they call out to Christ from a distance. They could not come too close and once healed their healing needed to be certified under the Law. We learn from this to obey the rules of our society, in all things decent and honest, and in this we follow Christ’s example. The Law of God in the Old Testament, however, presents different issues for Christians. The requirements of the Torah concerning holiness, love and justice do not conflict with Christian teaching but rather find their fulfilment in Christ.
There is another issue here concerning the Law. It was seen as defining Jewishness. To an extent it set the Jewish people apart. They were in a special sense the chosen ones of God and it was in the Jewish race that Christ was born. Yet Christ transcends the Law because salvation is for everyone. The Law itself had become a legalistic burden rather than a liberating way of life. In the Gospel, it is a Samaritan, someone outside the Law and the boundaries of Israel who was healed.
Salvation, therefore, is truly for all mankind. We are told in today’s Apostle reading from Colossians 3:11 …
“Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”
There is simply no place in the Body of Christ for any claim that we are saved because we have any special position by virtue of our nationality or heritage. The Holy Orthodox Church does not belong to any one group or groups. We are simply Christians, inheritors of the Kingdom of Heaven, called by the Grace of God, and because we accepted that call. In this we cannot claim any personal merit. Those who have had an Orthodox upbringing and have been raised in a culture shaped by that have reason to be thankful. They have had a good grounding in the Faith But for those of us who have come later to the Church, God is still welcoming.
(Children: God has no favourites)
Christ was gladdened by the thankfulness of the Samaritan who was healed of his leprosy. This response of thanksgiving brought him the fullness of salvation. We should also therefore be thankful. The grace of God that upholds all creation and which is shown in miracles and healings of all kinds is the same grace that allows us the freedom to know God in our lives and the joy of being part of His Church. For this, for the love He shows us, and for all His many blessings let us in turn be grateful to God and we shall be healed and saved.