Acts 5:12-16 The apostles heal many
12 Now many signs and wonders were done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13 None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high honor. 14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women, 15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and pallets, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.
From the beginning the preaching of Christ and the apostles was accompanied by healing. Crowds were attracted to Christ and then to his disciples in large part because there was a constant stream of healed and changed people. Healing—physical, emotional and spiritual—was and is considered basic to Orthodox Christian experience. And it was often a tactile, material, felt experience. The apostle James spoke of calling for the elders (the presbyters, priests) to anoint the sick with oil (James 5:14-15.) Later in Acts it is said that “God did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them (Acts 19:11-12.)” And in today’s account we hear that even Peter’s shadow carried healing power. In other words, from the beginning Christianity was a thoroughly material expression of faith, because everything is rooted in God’s incarnation and His transformation of matter. Even dead bodies are transformed into sources of healing through the power of the resurrection, which is why we venerate the relics of the saints.
While physical healing is wonderful, even more striking is the healing of “unclean spirits.” Saint Paul in his letter to the Galatians calls these unclean spirits “works of the flesh.”
Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal 5:19-21).
Sexual sins are prominent here, but even more noticeable are the sins that break communities apart: “enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy.” These unclean spirits can be healed, but only with our cooperation and ascetic effort. As St Paul goes on to say, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:24).
When such passions are not healed entire communities die.
On Saturday morning I had the privilege of being present at Our Lady of Kazan parish in Sea Cliff, NY for Father Leonid Kishkovsky’s elevation to the rare priestly rank of “Protopresbyter.” Bishop Michael of New York bestowed the award on behalf of the Holy Synod of Bishops which recognized Father Leonid’s decades of dedicated and thoughtful service to the Orthodox Church in America (and far beyond), representing the OCA in inter-Orthodox, inter-faith, ecumenical and government settings in the US and around the world.
On Saturday evening I joined Metropolitan Tikhon and a large crowd of people at Saint Vladimir’s Seminary to hear Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) give a lecture and receive an honorary doctorate for his vast accomplishments as a patristics scholar. Earlier we also had an opportunity to meet privately with Metropolitan Hilarion.
Father Daniel and Matushka Dunia Hubiak attended the lecture as well (they had served in Moscow at the OCA’s Representation Church of Saint Catherine at a time when Metropolitan Hilarion was a young priest and served there regularly.) Father Daniel is former Chancellor of the OCA and used the opportunity to donate a jeweled pectoral Cross to be worn by the OCA’s Chancellors. The beautiful cross was personally made for him by the late Walter Palchik of Holy Trinity Church in East Meadow, New York.