St Paul the Apostle Orthodox Church
24 Burke Road, Freehold, NJ 07728
/ Weekly Message / Weekly Message For 06-01-08: Sunday of the Blind Man/First Confession Class 2008
06-01-08: Sunday of the Blind Man/First Confession Class 2008

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, and especially Alex, Brianna, Christopher, Damien, Elyse and James:

Yesterday was another milestone in our humble parish of St. Paul, as confessions were heard for six of our parishioners gathered this morning in their finest clothing, as neat and clean on the outside as their souls are on the inside.

I have a confession to make myself:  32 long years ago, I was in 2nd grade, and made my first confession.  I attended St. Mary’s School in South River, a parochial school of a Polish parish, and back then, we still had a fair amount of nuns, whose average age probably came close to the scientific age of the planet earth itself.  Sister Mary Ludwina and Sister Mary Tarsisia drilled us for weeks on what to do, where to go, and they painstakingly went over exactly what was a sin, and what needed to be confessed to the priest.  Some of us were convinced that even breathing was a sin. Of course, we were all very nervous the evening our parents brought us to church for a prayer service, then the good Sisters lined us up at the front of the church, where several priests were waiting for us to make our confessions. 

After all of the weeks of instruction, and all of the terrorizing by the nuns, when it was my turn, I found myself in line to make my confession to the pastor, Fr. Michael Kseniak, of blessed memory.  Father Michael was an old school, seemingly grumpy man, who struck fear in the hearts of his parishioners, old and young.  It wasn’t until several years later that I learned he had a heart of gold, and was very accommodating to the souls entrusted to his care.  But there I was, frightened of even standing in his line to hear my confession, and after everything the Sisters went over with us, I knelt before him and told him I had committed adultery.  I can still remember him trying not to laugh as he asked me, “Son, do you know what that is?”  I told him, “I’m not sure, Father, but it’s something adults do.”  Funny, with a first confession like that, its a small wonder I’ve even made it this far!  At any rate, all of the stress leading up to the day itself quickly became a memory, and afterwards we celebrated the occasion with ice cream at the Colonial Diner, and then looked forward to the next big event, when we would receive Jesus in the Eucharist for the first time.

While the tradition in the Orthodox Church is that children receive Communion from the time after their Baptism and Confirmation, we celebrate today that our First Confession class is receiving Communion together, as a group, for the first time.  This means that for the first time, they will approach the chalice with humility, in the knowledge that they can only receive when they are without serious sin.  They approach today, as we should always do, “with fear of God, in faith and love” as we hear exclaimed by the deacon or priest in the Divine Liturgy, just prior to receiving Communion.

Today indeed is an appropriate day for such a joyous occasion, for our Gospel reading today echoes the same sentiments of recognizing sin.  As our Gospel lesson begins, Jesus is walking along with His Disciples, when he happens upon a man blind from birth.  The Disciples ask Jesus if the man was blind because of his own sins, or because of his parent’s sinfulness.  Jesus instead tells them, in his own inimitable way, that how he happened to be blind was not the issue, but instead that the works of God might be made manifest in him.  In other words, Jesus was telling them don’t worry about whose sins caused this, just watch and see what happens.

With that, he spits on the ground, makes clay from the spittle, and smears it on the man’s eyes, and then tells him to wash in the pool, which he did, and then by the miracle of God, he was able to see.  Just like that, Jesus performs a miracle, people rejoice and marvel at what was done, and then, in typical fashion, the Pharisees start poking around and get involved with the goings on.  And today’s miracle is no exception, for again, as we have heard in other Gospel reading, most recently two weeks ago, this was yet another miracle performed on the Sabbath, which always gets the Pharisees twisted out of shape. 

The Pharisees make the poor man retell his story of how he came to receive his sight, after telling another group who saw him and couldn’t believe their own eyes.  After hearing the story, the Pharisees tell him that Jesus is not from God, since he does not observe the Sabbath.  Typical Pharisees.  No faith or believe in the Messiah; the letter of the law says no working on the Sabbath, but the Spirit of the law says the Sabbath is the best time to show off the wonders of God and all of His holy works. 

They ask the man what he thinks in his own opinion, since he was given this great blessing, and when he tells them he sincerely believes Jesus is a prophet, the Pharisees still don’t believe him, and dragged his parents into the discussion.  Reluctantly, his parents were able to confirm that he is their son, he was indeed born blind, and that they do not know how he came to receive his sight.  Further, they explain to the Pharisees that since he is a grown man and capable of answering for himself, they should question him directly. 

Now, quite interestingly, Jesus is nowhere to be found, for He made this miracle, and then quietly slipped away, so that the formerly blind man, by his own faith, could give thanks and praise, and explain his new found faith to those who are lacking. 

So we cut back to the Pharisees, who are getting more ticked off that this so-called miracle happened, and ask the man, “What exactly did he do to you?  How did he open your eyes?”

The man answers, “I have told you already, but you won’t listen.”  The Pharisees told the man, “we aren’t his disciples, we are disciples of Moses.  We don’t know where this man comes from.”

Now the man really shows off his intelligence when he has the opportunity to tell off the Pharisees and expose their hypocrisy when he says, “You don’t know where he came from, yet he opened my eyes.  We know God doesn’t listen to sinners, but if anyone worships God and does his will, God will listen to him.  Never since the world began has anyone opened the eyes of a blind man.  If this man weren’t from God, he could do nothing.”  Having been put in their places, the Pharisees cast the man out of the temple, where Jesus finds him and asks him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”  The man says to Jesus, “Who is he that I may believe?”  Jesus then reveals himself to the man, and the man believed and worshiped him. 

This, my brothers and sisters in Christ, is another classic example of Jesus’ ministry.  He happens upon someone in crisis, performs a miracle that changes their life, creates controversy, then uses it as a means to bring others to God’s salvation. 

What makes today’s Gospel reading so important in the lives of six children who attend St. Paul Church?  Like the blind man, our children have sins, but the darkness that has clouded their souls has been lifted by the cleansing power of God’s forgiveness of sins.  Also like the man, once freed from blindness, they believe and worship the Son of Man present among us at this very moment in Word and Spirit, and shortly will be among us physically in body and blood in the form of Communion. 

Yes my brothers and sisters, today truly is a day to rejoice in the blessings bestowed upon our parish children, as well ourselves.  We should all strive to be better examples for the kids, for it will re-enforce the importance of confession each time they see us go prior to Liturgy.  And when they happen to tell you they WANT to go to confession, please, by no means deny them that opportunity.  Bring them as soon as you are able, so that they may be at peace, and that they will continue to learn the right way to live as children of God. 

And to the children, let me say this:  don’t ever be afraid to tell the priest when you’ve done something or said something that was bad.  When you share that with him, you’re actually telling Jesus you’re sorry.  Jesus loves that you want to keep your soul clean, and He will always be pleased with how you show Him you love Him.  I’m sure your moms and dads tell you to wash your hands a lot, so they will be clean.  In the same way that soap and water helps you clean your hands, confession is how you keep your souls clean. 

So, my brothers and sisters in Christ, as we go forward this day as Disciples of Christ, let us all do our very best to show our kids by good example that we want to believe and worship, in the same way the man who was blind told Jesus in today’s Gospel.  Congratulations, kids, on your special day, and may God bless us all we continue to be a blessing to others.  Amen.


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