Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany” and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.”
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it.” John 11:1-4 (Gospel on the Saturday of Lazarus)
Good morning Prayer Team!
As we begin Great Lent today, the focus of these reflections will shift towards the Scriptures of Holy Week. We will spend the Lenten period making a slow journey through the events of the week of Christ’s Passion, as told to us in the beautiful scriptures and hymns of Holy Week. The first stop is at Bethany, a village a few miles outside of Jerusalem. Bethany was the home of Mary and Martha, and their brother Lazarus. Jesus was friends with them, and often stayed in their home.
Jesus received word from Mary and Martha that their brother Lazarus was ill. And, seemingly out of character, Jesus did not heal Lazarus immediately. Nor did He rush to Bethany to heal him. In fact, He stayed where He was for two days, and only then did He make His way slowly to Bethany. Jesus, knowing everything, allowed Lazarus to die.
Mary and Martha must have had some incredible faith, because they made no request of Jesus to heal their brother. They merely informed Him “The one whom You love is ill.” And they left it up to Jesus as to what would happen next.
There are three kinds of healing that Jesus did in His ministry, and three kinds of healing that we have access to today. The first kind of healing was “instant healing.” One (of many) examples of this is told in Matthew 8:14-15: “And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, He saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever; He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and served Him.”
The second kind of healing was “gradual healing.” An example of this was the cleansing of Ten Lepers, told in Luke 17. Jesus encountered ten lepers who asked Him for mercy. When He saw them He said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. (Luke 17:14) In this case, as in others, those seeking healing were given something to do, and having done that, having trusted God to go and show themselves to the priests, they were healed “gradually.”
The third kind of healing can be called “ultimate healing.” The ultimate healing is “resurrection” from the dead and everlasting life. The only way to get this miracle is to physically die. After death, for the person of faith, comes the ultimate healing, which is salvation. Once one goes to the kingdom of God, there is no more need for healing, for there will never be any more illness. This ultimate healing results in no healing ever being needed again.
Jesus let Lazarus die. That was part of His plan. Because only by letting Lazarus die could Jesus show us what “ultimate healing” is, that He is Lord over the living and the dead, and that life after death is possible—for Lazarus, for Christ, and for us.
Through the miracles of medical science (inspired by God), and sometimes through miracles of God that defy explanation, we experience healing often in this life. Sometimes that healing is instant—a headache can be quickly healed with a pill. A crying child can be healed with a hug almost instantly. Sometimes the healing is gradual—heart disease or cancer are often cured through long protocols of surgery and treatment.
Eventually, for everyone, both instant and gradual healing will fail. And we will die. Death, for the faithful Christian, provides the ultimate healing. It is the only way to receive the ultimate healing. This presents us with at least a couple of challenges. First, it takes faith to place our hope in ultimate healing, because one has to go someplace unseen and permanent (death) in order to receive it. Secondly, as concerns our desire to live and for our loved ones to live, it takes great faith and humility to make the simple plea of Mary and Martha over those who are sick: “Lord, the one whom You love is ill.” Imagine that this is the ONLY prayer you offer over someone who is sick. This leaves it totally in the hands of God. It asks, as Jesus said, that “God may be glorified by means of it,” meaning leaving room for God’s glory in the midst of whatever disease or illness is being had and in the outcome, whatever that may be, of that disease. The younger the person is who is very ill, the harder it is to offer THIS prayer. I once ministered to a young woman who was very devout in her faith and who way dying from cancer. She asked me “Father, do you think I will get a miracle?” I answered, “You are either going to get the miracle of restored health or everlasting life, you are either going to get gradual healing or ultimate healing, but either way, you are going to get a ‘miracle’. Either way you are going to be ‘healed.’” In her case, God gave her ultimate healing.
In our life we will experience instant healing and gradual healing. At some point, we will have to turn our attention and hope to ultimate healing. In order to receive the ultimate healing, however, one has to die, and one has to die trusting God, and giving glory to Him.
Martha and Mary unto the Savior said: If You had been here, O Lord, then Lazarus would not have died. Then Christ, the Resurrection of those who in death have slumbered, resurrected from the dead the man already four days dead. Therefore, O believers all, come let us adore Him who is coming in glory to save our souls. (From the Praises of the Saturday of Lazarus, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Glorify God in all things—good and bad—today.
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