Gratitude is the spice of all the virtues

A sermon of His Eminence the Bishop Parthenius of Antania, Elder and Abbot of the Holy Bigorski Monastery, delivered during the Liturgy on the Sunday of the Paralytic, on the 15th of May, 2021 year of our Lord.

Today, my dear ones, we heard from the Holy Gospel according to John, about the miracle that our Lord Jesus Christ performed on the paralyzed man in the famous Jerusalem bath Bethesda. There were many sick people in there, and one of them was paralyzed, bedridden for 38 years, and had been patiently lying there waiting for healing. Because, an angel of God came to that bath, several times a year, and moved the water so that whoever entered it first was healed from any disease. But there was no one to take care of this seriously ill and immobile man and put him in the water at that moment, so he remained there to suffer from the disease. Probably some people tried to help him once, but given his difficult condition, everyone lost patience with him. And behold, in such painful circumstances for this sufferer, Christ came to visit the ill people in Bethesda before the feast of the Jews. As an omniscient God, Who knows the hearts and minds of men, He graciously looked at this man’s great suffering and patience and asked him: When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. (John 5: 6-7).

Bishop Parthenius, Abbot of Bigorski

I have no man. How tragic and desperate these words sound! To have no one by your side in the greatest torments. And suddenly, behold, the Man and the Human- loving Jesus Christ, came before him, He who came to heal us all from Adam’s sickness and transform us into real people. The new Adam, the model of a real man. He healed the paralyzed, who had demonstrated truly incomprehensible patience. He did not lose hope that one day God’s mercy would come upon him and that he too would one day be healthy. That day came with Christ and his hopes came true, patience proved useful.

There is no doubt that patience is a great virtue and that God rewards those who are patient. However, this individual virtue, if not related to the other virtues, is not sufficient for complete and final salvation. All virtues should be connected to one another through love, which is the bond of perfection (Col. 3:14). The Apostle Peter also advises Christians to complement one virtue with another. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. (2.Peter 1:5-8). The sick man from the thermal bath undoubtedly had patience, but no love nor gratitude. This can be deduced from his behaviour after healing. He did not show any special interest in finding his Benefactor, or getting to know Him and thanking Him. Therefore, when Christ later meets him in the temple, he says to him Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee. (John 5:14)

Who was that man? The same one who shamelessly slapped Christ, when He was taken to court before Caiaphas. Imagine, he dared to hit his Benefactor Who had healed him and released him from the 38 years of martyrdom! Do you see how terrible ingratitude is! Therefore, my dear ones, let us strive to enrich ourselves with all virtues if we want to be true Christians and please God and our neighbours.

Today I serve my first Liturgy after the Holy Ecumenical Patriarch Mr Bartholomew received our Church in canonical unity, under its glorious, ancient and ecclesiologically correct name Ohrid Archbishopric. My tears are flowing, and strong emotions are overcoming me, especially since this Divine Eucharist was co-celebrated with our great friend and true brother in Christ from the Orthodox and fraternal Greece, Archimandrite Mr Matthew (Psomas). Although until now he could not serve with us like this, because we were in complete isolation and schism, he has been with us constantly in the past years. Our joys and sorrows were his joys and sorrows and vice versa. And behold, now the Lord has chosen him to be the first to serve with us.

My dears, just like the paralyzed one in the bath, we too have been waiting patiently for many years for the injustice done to our Church to be rectified and for a true man to appear, someone who could deliver us from our Bethesda of solitude. God sent us His mercy through the pious and enlightened Ecumenical Patriarch, His All-Holiness Mr Bartholomew. May God provide that everything be completed as it should be, because, as you know, in the earthly Church, as in any other human institution, people are not free from the effects of sin and passions, and that is why many different temptations occur. Let us all pray for the completion of this deed, which began with our canonical reception and unity with the entire Orthodox ecumene through the First-Throned Mother Church in Constantinople. We need to plead with God to end this the way we wish – with the granting of Tomos for autocephaly. But for that to happen, we need to be thankful. Because we saw what happened to today’s disabled man who turned out to be ungrateful. Although he was healed by Christ, due to his pride and ingratitude, he fell into great and grievous sins, and so his second condition became much worse than the first. He became spiritually disabled and even a rebel against God. Let us rejoice in this holy event which has happened to our Church. Let us rejoice and pray to the merciful God to finally finish it. May our hearts be filled with gratitude, friendship, and love. Every good deed and every virtue is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and every Christian is obliged to partake in the gracious gifts of the Holy Spirit. The present fellowship is an example of such a great friendship. Father Matthew was the first to come to rejoice in our joy, according to the words of Apostle Paul: Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. (Rom. 12:15) And the Lord rejoices in this love and blesses it. Let us now continue with the canon of the Eucharist, giving ourselves completely to the grace of God, which leads us to spiritual contemplation. Amen!

Christ is risen!