Here is my translation, with the help of the indefatigable Natalia Mikhaylova of Orthodoxy and the World, of a sermon by Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov), deputy abbot (namestnik) of the Sretensky Monastery in Moscow, on the Sunday of the Paralytic:
Today is a feast day for all of us paralytics. Today, brothers and sisters, we to a certain degree are meeting our name-day, our feast day. Who among us can boast that he is strong, courageous, bearing all the misfortunes of this age, fulfilling all of Christ’s commandments? Deliver us, O Lord, if such a person stands in our midst -- one cannot imagine a worse righteous or strong man! The Apostle Paul says: Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong (2 Cor 12:10). But the Apostle did not deprive himself of one thing: strong faith and undoubting hope in the Savior. “The power of God is made perfect in weakness!”
How can the world, which does not believe in God and preaches the illusory omnipotence of mankind, understand this?
Paralytic bothers and sisters! Let us rejoice that we at least understand ourselves as we are! The Lord came into the world to save paralytic sinners, and us among them. The strong crucified Jesus Christ, and the Lord allowed them this terrible, mindless power to crucify God. When we become proud and sure of ourselves, then we repeat this terrible crime of the God-killers: the crucifixion of the Savior.
Let us recognize ourselves for who we are in fact. The Apostle James writes: For what is your life? It is a vapour that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away (James 4:14). No matter how strongly our pride rebels agains this, let us look dispassionately at the universe: the myriads of planets, the thousands of generations, endlessly following one another, the billions of people who are erased from the memory of their descendants and their neighbors.
I had a friend to whom I owe very much, and my faith in the first place. He died twelve years ago, and I thought that I would never forget him, that I would always remember him, and certainly at the Liturgy. And I suddenly realized with horror that one Liturgy had gone by, and another, and I did not remember him, one of the dearest people to me. And my spiritual paralysis, my ingratitude to a man who did so much for me, became terrible to me. Do we every day remember with the necessary zeal our parents -- both alive and departed? Do we every day remember our own salvation -- the most important thing for which we live?
Yet something within us tells us unmistakably that man is something more than vapor. Our life, yes, is transient and withering, like the grass under the hot summer sun. Recall in the Psalter: as the flower of the field, so hath he blossomed forth (Ps. 103:15). But the soul – a unique human personality created by God – its story in time and eternity is altogether different. If the soul is united with its Creator and God, then it becomes the most beautiful, the most precious of everything that is on earth. In the memory of God, in God such a soul receives not simply life, but life “more abundantly,” as the Apostle Paul writes. He can not with human words express in any other way the mystery revealed to him of the future age. And the same Apostle writes: Eye hath no seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him (1 Cor 2:9).
In the lives of each one of us there will still be moments of weakness and failures, of what we call paralysis. They can last for many years, just as with the paralytic at the Sheep pool, of which the Gospel speaks. This paralytic lay for many years awaiting healing. But he believed that a messenger of God would come and heal him.
Let us not recognize ourselves as strong, because out strength is Christ alone. Let us never recognize ourselves as indestructible and not prone to sin, because we are fallen people. And let us strive not to lose faith in Christ, because the Lord Jesus Christ is eternally powerful and has the power to save us not only from temporal passions and misfortunes. The Lord, “trampling down death by death,” can give eternal life to us, who one day will be in the grave, and will free us from this eternal and final paralysis.
Let us not think highly of ourselves, let us not be surprised by our infirmities, let us not, because of them, fall into despair and despondency. Let us sincerely, with all our strength, strive towards correction, struggling against the evil and sin living within us. Let us firmly believe that our Lord Jesus Christ will help us in this. He loves us, because we are His children. We, who recognize ourselves as paralytics and asking help from our Heavenly Father, will not be left behind, for He gives us His invincible power. Only by this are we strong – just as only by this were the Apostles, Confessors, Venerable Ones, and Martyrs strong.