The darkness of ignorance
by Fr. Emmanuel Hatzidakis on May 10, 2018
A stupendous miracle is narrated by the holy Evangelist St. John the divine1, and a great contrast is drawn between the blind man and the elite class of the Jews, the Pharisees. The blind man miraculously regains his eyesight and, more importantly, his spiritual eyesight, coming to believe and to worship the God incarnate; whereas the teachers of the law, who should be enlightened by the word of God, remain in spiritual darkness, rejecting the Light of the world.
Blindness of the Pharisees
“How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?”
“Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?”
“What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”
Let us look at the Pharisees. They are not interested in gaining knowledge. They keep asking questions not in order to learn, but in order to justify their preconceived notions: that this man is an impostor, not a prophet–even the expected Messiah! They ask in order to find a cause to incriminate Him and put Him to death–as they eventually did. They knew one thing: that they knew–or so they thought. It often happens with us as well. We are certain, beyond the slightest doubt, about what we know. We judge everything and everyone according to what we know–whether right or wrong. In this instance the Pharisees were obviously very wrong! They blasphemed, calling the sinless One a sinner! Why? Because He “worked” on the day of Sabbath. As a certain commentator said: then let them sue God, who makes our hearts beat on the Sabbath!! Christ did the most beautiful act on the Sabbath, while they were blaspheming the Lightgiver on the day of Sabbath. The Pharisees confessed by themselves that they were in the darkness of ignorance. Ignorance is darkness.
When you don’t know Christ, who is “the true Light, who enlightens everyone who comes into the world” (cf. John 1:9), then you walk in darkness. And when, my dear brothers and sisters, we think egotistically, that we possess the truth and that we are infallible as the Pharisees, then the darkness of ignorance is even denser. “If the light,” says the Lord, “is darkness, how great is per chance the darkness?” (Mt. 6:23) St. Basil the Great comments that “The ignorance about God is the death of the soul.” I read somewhere that ignorance is one of the three great evils in the world (the other two being forgetfulness of God and spiritual laziness). Ignorance has caught in its nets multitudes of people. According to St. Maximos the Confessor, ignorance is the pollution of our mind. Such polluted and impure minds had the Pharisees, and that is why they could not see Christ with simplicity and purity, to recognize Him and to love Him. Ignorance makes many people who are blind in soul and impure in thought, to deride the Christians who have their spiritual eyes open and live in the light of Christ. Correctly, then, says again St. Maximos, “He who unites himself to the Truth knows well (as the blind man of the Gospel knew) that he is well in his mind, even though many people advise him as if he were naive.”
Blindness of the disciples
The evangelist does not hide the fact that not only the Pharisees, but the disciples as well displayed ignorance. Just a little earlier the Lord had declared, “I am the Light of the world” (John 8:12). Therefore when they came upon the blind man, they should have asked, “Teacher, You who are the Light of the world, give him Your light.” Yet, instead of soliciting the energy of the Lightgiver, they put forth their own curiosity: “Who sinned, he or his parents, for him to be born blind?” When there is a solution we should not preoccupy ourselves with the problem. When there is the Healer of our bodies and souls before us, we do not inquire about the affliction. The people too inquire as to “how” was the miracle performed: “How were your eyes opened?” When we stand before a miracle we don’t inquire “how?” It’s God’s miracle! We believe that God created the human beings and everything that exists, do we not? Why then do we have such a hard time believing that He can restore someone’s eyesight? The same creative power that fashioned man out of dust, also formed the eyelids of the man born blind. The same Creator gives life and light. He is the Lifegiver and the Lightgiver. Therefore, instead of preoccupying ourselves with futile questions, we should give glory to God.
Despite the stupendous miracle, the Pharisees, so sure of themselves, stubbornly remain in their spiritual blindness to the very end. Perhaps we behave like the Pharisees, looking righteous on the outside, while inside we are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness, and all kinds of filth (cf. Mt. 23:27)–which we meticulously try to hide. Is it possible that we may live in spiritual darkness, without even knowing it? How can we find out? St. John the Theologian helps us:
“Whoever says, ‘I am in the light,’ while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates another believer is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness” (1 John 2:9-11).
Are we spiritually blind?
If we harbor enmity in our hearts for alleged or even real offenses against us, this means that we are spiritually blind! If our hearts are cold to the suffering of our fellow human beings and we do nothing to alleviate their suffering, we are in spiritual darkness. God gave us hearts with which to love Him and our fellow human beings. And what do we do? We close our hearts. We ignore God and our brother and sister—we even hate them! Isn’t this spiritual blindness?
My brothers and sisters: As paradoxical as this may sound, blind people choose not to see! Unlike physical blindness, spiritual blindness is self-inflicted. As prophet Isaiah says, “Blind yourselves and be blind!” (Is. 29:9). Even more paradoxical is the fact that unlike the physically blind, the spiritually blind do not admit to their blindness. In fact they think that they see better than others! The life of the spiritually blind is full of paradoxes. Like someone who has been in darkness a long time and avoids the sunlight, so the spiritually blind people avoid the light of Christ. They are even critical of those who walk in the light of Christ!
Let us examine ourselves, lest what we think is light in us is darkness (cf. Lk. 11:35):
- Do we, by any chance, see darkness in us and call it light?
- Is it possible that, like the blind man, we grope in spiritual darkness, stumbling along the way, not knowing where we are or where we are heading, yet we don’t see our blindness and spiritual poverty, true to what the scripture says, “You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17).
- Do we go on living in sin, swayed by our evil desires and passions, yet justifying ourselves and excusing our behavior, by saying, for example, I’m not the worst?
Now let us pose the reverse question: Do we see light in others and call it darkness? Here are a few examples, to help us answer this question.
- What do we think of those who receive holy Communion frequently? Do we think, Who do they think they are, holy or something? What is communion, soup? I saw them eating meat the Saturday before!
- What do we think of those who read the holy scripture, those who go to Bible study: religious freaks? holier than thou? hypocrites? maybe Protestants?!
- Do we catch ourselves criticizing, slandering, calumniating others for the good things we see in them and in the things they are doing? If yes, we are in the darkness of ignorance.
- When we are given some good advice, some constructive criticism does it hurt us, do we react with anger, grudge, and resentment?
- Are we vengeful? If yes, we live in the darkness of ignorance.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ: What we need to do is to “lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Rom. 13:12). The Apostle Peter too attests to this truth, when he says,
“You must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For anyone who lacks these things is nearsighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins” (2 Pet. 1:5-9).
We need to lay aside our old, sinful ways, our stubbornness, our ego, our hardness of heart, and come out of darkness, into the light of Christ.
May the Lord illumine our minds, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, to get to know Him truly, and thus, moved by love towards Him, seek Him with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. The greatest knowledge in the world is neither scientific knowledge nor technology nor languages nor any kind of knowledge or skill conferred by degrees and diplomas. They are worth something. They indicate a person is using his or her intelligence, will power and other God-given gifts. But they are not everything. The highest knowledge is to know God. “And this is eternal life, to know You, the only true God and Whom You sent, Jesus Christ” (John 17:3).
Do we want to see, dear Christians? Do we want to live in the light of Christ? Then here is what the word of God says we should do: “If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness” (Is. 58:9-10). Then, my friends, the darkness of ignorance will be dispelled from our eyes, and will be shed like the scales which fell from St. Paul’s eyes, when he regained his sight and, especially, his spiritual sight (cf. Acts 9:18). Then we too may rise, receive the light of Christ that illumines everyone and everything, and preach the Lord’s grace, as the blind man did, as St. Paul did. May the Lord shine in our hearts the light of His knowledge (cf. 2 Cor. 4:6). Amen.
- At that time, as Jesus passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him. We must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day; night comes, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." As he said this, he spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle and anointed the man's eyes with the clay, saying to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar, said, "Is not this the man who used to sit and beg?" Some said, "It is he"; others said, "No, but he is like him." He said, "I am the man." They said to him, "Then how were your eyes opened?" He answered, "The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me, 'Go to Siloam and wash'; so I went and washed and received my sight." They said to him, "Where is he?" He said, "I do not know."They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. The Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, "He put clay on my eyes and I washed, and I see." Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not keep the sabbath." But others said, "How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?" There was a division among them. So they again said to the blind man, "What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?" He said, "He is a prophet."The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight, and asked them, "Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?" His parents answered, "We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age, he will speak for himself." His parents said this because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess him to be Christ he was to be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, "He is of age, ask him."
So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, "Give God the praise; we know that this man is a sinner." He answered, "Whether he is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I know, that though I was blind, now I see." They said to him, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?" He answered them, "I have told you already and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you too want to become his disciples?" And they reviled him, saying, "You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from." The man answered, "Why, this is a marvel! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." They answered him, "You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?" And they cast him out.
Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, "Do you believe in the Son of man?" He answered, "And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?" Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, and it is he who speaks to you." He said, "Lord, I believe"; and he worshiped him.