20th Sunday after Pentecost – Orthodox Homily on the Healing of the Woman with the Flow of Blood

Today is the Synaxis of the Holy Unmercenary Healers or, as they are called elsewhere in the Orthodox Church—“Physicians without silver”, which still has a resonance in our day, given the high costs of medical care and health insurance for many.  The holy Uncercenary Healers whom we commemorate today,  Panteleimon, Cyrus and John, Cosma and Damian, and the others, all shared their God-given gift for miraculous healing freely to all those in need.  

Unlike the treatment of diseases or symptoms of diseases offered us through medical science, the healings Christ performed in the Gospels and the miraculous healings that were performed by the Holy Unmercenaries, as well as those we continue to see in His Church today, are complete healings.  One such healing is the woman with the flow of blood in today’s Gospel.  She is healed completelyof her hemorrhage. Likewise, Christ raises Jairus’ only daughter from the dead completely, restoring her to life and demonstrating His power as God.  Jesus Christ is the Logos (Word) of God incarnate, Who spoke creation into being and breathed life into the first man, Adam.  He has triumphed over sin and death on our behalf, entering into death as man and defeating death as God.  He is truly the Great Physician of our souls and bodies.  

But what about those diseases that God allows.  We all die of something.  Indeed, only by dying do we put on immortality and are ‘born’ into eternal life.  We also consider the confounding words of St. Paul when he says, “a thorn in the flesh was given to me” and concerning this ‘thorn’ St. Paul besought the Lord three times to take it away from him but God did not!  

So why does God choose to heal some and not others?  Why does He permit some to suffer terrible diseases while others enjoy good health?  Why do the righteous sometimes suffer much affliction and persecution while it often seems the godless do not?  These are some of the common questions we’ve all heard or perhaps considered. It’s another version of the age-old question of, “Why does God permit bad things to happen to good people?” 

To some, God may seem ‘capricious,’ unfair.  We think of Job, who lost almost everything dear to him, including his children, and then lost even his own health.  His wife then advises him to “curse God and die” (Job 2:9). To some, this may seem like the logical response to such terrible pain and suffering.  Why not just give up on God and faith in Him?  But Job did not.  Instead, we hear him say, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither. The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21)

The fact is, for many, it’s easier to put their trust in medical science than in God, especially if it’s God they’re blaming for their illness in their bitterness toward him; it’s easier to put their trust in the doctors than in God, knowing that some receive healing, while others do not.  It’s easier to pop a pill than to prepare yourself spiritually for anointing in faith; it’s easier to rely on medical science as our culture does than to be among those who believe in miracles of physical healing, let alone the spiritual healing of a sin-sick soul.  

The truth is, God can work through medical science to bring about physical healing or He can heal without science.  But the Church recognizes that true healing is ultimately more complex: physical healing involves not only the body, but alwaysalso involves the soul.  

If one is physically fit but neglects the soul, what has that person gained? In fact, Christ God asks this very question of us, “For what profit is it to a man if he gains thewhole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matt. 16:26).  In other words, our physical bodies and our temporal pursuits will wear out, some sooner, some later, but they will in the words of the prophet Isaiah, “vanish away likesmoke, The earth will grow old likeagarment, And those who dwell in it will die in likemanner; But My salvation will be forever, And My righteousness will not fail” (Is. 51:6), God affirms through the Prophet Isaiah. 

Our Old Testament readings at Great Vespers for this Sunday give us some insights into answers to the questions above, reminding us of what God has declared: “I, even I, am the Lord, And besides Me there is no savior. Indeed before the day was, I am He; And there is no one who can deliver out of My hand; I work, and who will reverse it?” (Is 43:11,13).  

This truth gives us confidence because we are all, to varying degrees, sin-sick, in need of continued healing in the Lord. He alone is our Savior.  He receives us as we are, broken, sick, diseased, dying, and He gives us a future and a hope with Him.  This hope, however, is not of this world, but of His Kingdom to come.  To that end, Christ gives us a new name, a new identity.  He makes us His adopted children.  He fits us for eternity with Him.  Medical science can fail us, our bodies can and will fail us, but a humble soul, open to God’s healing and growth in holiness and righteousness, communion with God, a person striving to place Him first in life, will grow stronger and stronger in spirit, even as his or her body wears out like a garment.  

New beginnings are always possible with God just as is His healing: He is the God of redemption, the God of those who wantto be redeemed.  He is the Savior of those who recognize their need for God, who put their trust in Him and “not in princes and sons of men,” as we sing at Vespers from Psalm 1.  

So yes, God can bring us healing, but while faith is necessary for healing, not everyone who approaches Christ God with faith receiveshealing.  Healing remains a mystery.   God sometimes allows us to suffer with various afflictions to cause us to depend on Him more, to work out our salvation, to grow in faith, to be deified.  These ‘crosses’ or ‘thorns’ can be our teachers, if we’re willing to bring Christ into the midst of our physical limitations and afflictions.  This means, we avail ourselves of anointing, regular confession, reception of the Eucharist, worship, daily prayer, more prayer, fasting, a life spent day by day and moment by moment with God the Holy Trinity in mind and heart.  Then, by God’s grace, we find step by step healing for the sin-sickness of our souls, even if our bodies continue to demonstrate their mortality and age.  

Returning then to St. Paul’s “thorn in the flesh.” The Apostle Paul besought the Lord three times to take it from him.  God’s response to His beloved St. Paul was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (II Cor. 12:9).  As St. Paul admits, he was allowed to suffer this affliction that he might learn humility, to continue on his upward path of Christ and not be “exalted above measure.”  We know that God alone sees all ends. He is always working for our spiritual healing, fitting us, readying us, for His eternal Kingdom.  This is God’s priority.

The reality is that our sickness, whether of body or soul or both, is all part of mankind’s choice to give into sin, corporately and/or personally.  We all suffer from our own sins and from the sins of others.  But glory to God, He has overcome the world. He has defeated sin and death for us.  Every Sunday is a proclamation of this truth, this hope, that alone does not disappoint. Every healing of soul or body is a miracle, God’s interjection into this otherwise sick and dying world.  God also gives us this rank of Saints, the Holy Unmercinaries, ‘Doctors without Silver,’ to show us His power over sickness, disease, and death—of body and soul.  Miracles do happen!

What God says to St. Paul is also true for us: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” If everything always goes our way, if we have everything provided for us and perfect physical health, if there is no accountability for our sins, we may never come to the place of recognizing our need for the Savior of the world, the only Lover of mankind, our Lord and God Jesus Christ.  In our weakness of body and/or soul, we call out to God as our Savior, beseeching Him to save us, to have mercy on us; we learn to entrust ourselves to Him and prioritize the needs of our immortal souls, our communion with Him who is life itself.

God assures us today that “the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God …” that, “Those who trust in him will understand truth, and the faithful will abide with him in love, because grace and mercy are upon his elect, and he watches over his holy ones,” as we hear in the Book of Wisdom for the Feast (Wis., 3:1,9).  Holy Unmercenary Saints, Holy Physicians without Silver, intercede for us before the merciful Lord for the healing of our bodies and souls.  

Fr. Robert Miclean

Holy Archangels Orthodox Church

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Epistles:            I Cor. 12:27-13:8; II Cor. 11:31-12:9

Gospels:            Matt. 10:1, 5-8; Luke 8:41-56