by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh
There are many passages in the Gospel in which Christ, turning to a person who is sick in mind or in body, asks a question, and this question is always: “Do you wish to be made whole?” This phrase is important because it implies something which is vaster and more complete
than simply the restoration of health: a return to the condition that was the sick person’s before illness attacked him. Very often illness is the result of the way of life which we lead, of our folly, or it is the result of heredity or of outer conditions. All this is within the compass of our situation in a world which, from a Christian point of view, i s a fallen world, or, if you prefer, a distorted world, a world that has lost its harmony, its wholeness, or has not attained it.
Whatever way you look at it, our world is a broken one.
A thing that has been striking me quite a lot in the last years is why does Christ ask, “Do you w ant to be made whole?” Isn’t it obvious that any sane person will say: “Of course I do,” – with the emphasis on the phrase “of course.” “Why are you asking a silly question? Who wishes to be ill?” And yet, I think it is a very important question, because, in terms of the Gospel, to be made whole means not simply getting rid of one’s physical illness but of being reintegrated to a quality of life which one did not possess before and which may be given us on condition, the condition being that being made whole, being restored to health, means that we must take responsibility for our bodily and mental condition in a way in which we didn’t do before. To be healed physically is perhaps a small image of being restored to life, having come to the brink of d eath. The life which would have continued within us without this healing act of God would have been a life that gradually deteriorated more and more and would bring us to dying, a gradual disintegration either of our mental condition or our physical condition. If we are given back a wholeness which we had lost, or perhaps which we never possessed before, it means that the life which is ours now after healing is not simply for us to use any way we choose. It is a gift. It is not ours, in a way. We were dead, we were dying, we are brought back to a plenitude of life and this
plenitude is not ours – it is a gift.
So that in terms of the Gospel, as I understand it, when Christ says: “Do you wish to be made whole,” he implies: “Supposing I do it? Are you prepared to lead a life of wholeness? Or do you want Me to make you whole in order to go back to what destroyed this wholeness, all that destroyed you in body and soul?” This is a question which stands before each patient, although most patients have no idea of the question.
Another aspect of wholeness restored is revealed in Christ’s words: “Go and sin no more.” We must realize that when we speak of healing in Christianterms we do not speak simply of a power possessed by God or by His saints or by people who, being neither saints nor God, are possessed of a natural gift to restore health to enable us to continue to live in the way in which we
lived before, to remain the same, unchanged. God does not heal us in order that we should go back to our sinful condition. He offers us newness of life, not the old life which we have already lost. And the new life which is offered us is no longer ours. It is his. It’s a gift of his, a present. Thinking in spiritual terms, it is true. Because what is sin? We define sin all the time as moral infringement, but it is much more than this: it is the very thing of which I was speaking. It is a lack of wholeness. When we think of ourselves:
I am divided – mind against heart, heart against will, body against all the rest. We are all not only schizophrenic, but schizo-everything. We are like a broken mirror. That is the condition of sin: it is not so much that the mirror doesn’t reflect well. It is the fact that it is broken. That is the problem. You can, of course, try to take a small piece of it and see what you can see, but it is still a broken mirror. This brokenness of ours within corresponds to a brokenness in our relationships with other people. We are afraid of them, we are envious of them, we are greedy, and what not. So it creates a whole relation of sinfulness and indeed it applies supremely to God, because it all results from our having lost our harmony with God. The saints are people who are in harmony with God, nothing more, nothing less, simply that. And as the result of being in harmony with God, they can then be in harmony within themselves and with other people.
Let me want suggest something which you may find difficult to take. Then in a way, whether one is healed physically or not becomes a secondary thing, not to our relatives, not to our friends, but to the person concerned. What matters is wholeness being restored. Once the wholeness is restored, if together with it goes a physical healing, good. And if it doesn’t, that may also
Metropolitan Anthony, former head of the Diocese of Sourozh, UK, died 4 August 2003. Encounter, a collection of his writings, has been published by Darton, Longman & Todd, London. The same publisher has issued a biography, This Holy Man, by
Gillian Crow. This is an excerpt from a talk given on 25 November 1987, copyright by the Estate of Metropolitan Anthony. Metropolitan Anthony Library: http://www.metropolit-anthony.orc.ru/eng/
IN COMMUNION / FALL 2006