Saint John Damascene

Is 29:17-24; Ps 27:1,4,13,14; Mt 9:27-31

It has been said that Saint John Damascene is to the Eastern Church what Saint Thomas Aquinas is to the Western Church.  This holy monk, Saint John, lived in a monastery most of his life and gave himself over to a hidden but very productive ministry.  He defended the faith of the church by standing up to the Iconoclasts.  Perhaps, they were under the influence of the radical monotheism of the Islamic culture within which Saint John lived all his life, but these heretics tried to suppress the use of icons in the Church.  This is especially a great patron saint in the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches because to defend the revelation of the faith was to defend the display of hidden mysteries to the eye of the faithful in the tradition of the writing of icons.  Long before the faithful could read, they could gaze with wonder upon the Word of God written in faith by the hands of visual theologians.  Such an “incarnation of the Eternal Word of God” in the icons was a manifestation and continuation of great mystery of The Incarnation.  In celebrating Saint John Damascene during Advent, we Western Catholics prepare our hearts and minds for the great feast of the Birth of the Incarnate One who became flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mother.  With the Lord as our refuge we join all the saints to live without fear.  Indeed, with them we seek to dwell in the Lord’s own house so that we, too, may gaze upon his loveliness and contemplate his glory.  Such is the bounty we expect to receive in the land of the living.  So, with courage we learn how to wait in Advent Joy for the coming of the One whose very person unites humanity and divinity.  We are stouthearted; we wait for Immanuel, the one who has already come and who is the one yet to come.


Just like in the days of Isaiah, so too, at the time of Saint John Damascene tyrants abounded; they were powerful men and woman, full of arrogance.  Such is the power of the prophet Isaiah and the saints of our church.  It is just such power that the world needs today.  Many who are deaf long to hear the words of the Gospel.  Those who are blind are still longing to be brought out of the gloom and darkness of sin and ignorance.  Those who err in spirit still need to acquire understanding and those who find fault still need to receive instruction.  Where are the prophets and preachers of the past?  Where are Isaiah and Saint John Damascene?  Who among us will keep his name holy?  Who among us will reverence the Holy One of Isaiah and live in awe of the God of John?  Indeed, the Lord God himself responds to such questioning, “But a very little while, and Lebanon shall be changed into an orchard, and the orchard be regarded as a forest!”  Soon and very soon, truly prophetic bishops will arise among us.  Such is the promise of the Lord Our God.


Why did the Lord Jesus make such a demand of the two blind men who had just been healed?  Why didn’t he want them to advertise his power?  Perhaps the Lord did not want to feed any false notions of his power and purpose among us.  Perhaps he did not want the crowds to think for one moment that he came to display his glory and flaunt his majesty.  The Lord Jesus came from the Father to reveal the true nature of God, which is seen upon the cross.  God is humble.  There is no one more humble than the Lord Our God.  The divine humility of the Father is seen in the divine humiliation of the Son upon the cross.  The Lord Jesus does not want the crowd to admire him or to seek him out for more displays of power.  The Lord Jesus wants to encounter faith on the earth.  This is the kind of faith that Jesus seeks: the faith that gave the blind men the grace to see him as their savior and to ask for his healing.  In these dark days of Advent we too hear the Lord Jesus ask us, “Do you believe that I can do this?”  Do we believe that the Lord Jesus can heal us, save us, grow us, into holiness?  Can we reveal the power of the prophets and the courage of the saints?  Is this the Advent gift that the Lord wants to give the world through us?