Names and Labels of the Pentecostarion: The Man Born Blind
John 9, 1-38
It's a scene of great tumult: a group that possesses the earthly power to stone our Lord for blasphemy is all ready for the task in hand (John 8:39), but He has the divine power to evade them. Then He sees a man who has been blind since the day of his birth.
Anyone suffering from visual impairment in the Holy Land of the first century would be totally dependent on others, excluded from the temple (2 Sam. 5:8) (1) and judged on this physical disability: to be like he is, someone along the line must have sinned.
Not so, says Christ; it is so the works of God should be revealed in him (v. 3). Revealed, uncovered, God's works have come to light: they can be seen by all through a man who has spent his life in darkness. In fact, the events of this story unfold very much in the public eye. Far from making Himself scarce for fear of a stoning, our Lord once again displays where heavenly authority really lies.
Incredulous after the healing, the Pharisees haul in the man’s parents for questioning. They answer in a very reasonable way: yes, he was blind and now he can see, but how it happened, we don’t know. Ask him: he’s old enough to speak for himself, they say. Yet John adds a detail in v. 22: the parents were reserved in their comments because of the fear of being expelled from the synagogue if they are seen to confess Christ: that is, fear of the power embodied in the investigators.
Interrogation, inquisition, intimidation: the now seeing man is called back for a second round (v. 24). The Pharisees in their smug self-righteousness are now the blind ones. Once ostracised for his physical disability, the man is no longer prevented from entering the place of worship and seeing the Torah with his own eyes (2) – but he’s thrown out anyway because he has the knowledge to win the argument.
Well, there’s a lot in this story. Power, knowledge and judgement all feature here. At the end, Christ mentions the latter (John 9: 39): His light is a brilliant manifestation to the blind, who now see, but a glaring error to the ‘sighted’: those in possession of earthly power and knowledge who become blind in their arrogance and ignorance.
So, it’s our last Sunday story before the Ascension. Is there any connection?
Within my quest to present ‘names and labels’ for those commemorated in the Pentecostarion who are not named in the Bible, I was able to locate the name behind the label ‘the Man Born Blind’: it’s Celidonius (3). The meaning, I found out, is ‘a swallow’ (4). Is there any significance to this? After some online searching that at first generated only a tenuous link , I finally hit the jackpot: yes, indeed there is. Within a homily on the Ascension (5), St. Nikolai Velimirovich uses the analogy of a swallow to illustrate how the ascended Christ leads us to salvation, describing Him as a ‘blessed swallow’, flying ahead and showing us the way, so that we, the rest of the flock, may follow Him.
There are other words in this homily that contain a very meaningful association to the biblical story of Celidonius:
‘Sin clipped Adamʼs wings and those of all his descendants, and they all fell away from God, went off, and were blinded with the dust from which their bodies were created’. It is dust that brought life to our bodies, including the human body of Christ, and dust which Christ mixes with saliva to initiate the healing of Celidonius (v. 6). So this very dust that has blinded humanity, because we have allowed it to, is now an instrument of our salvation, providing us with the opportunity to become a new creation and follow Him until we claim ‘our citizenship in heaven’ (Phil. 3: 20).
The group who were out to stone Christ didn’t manage to, because the manner of His death was to be crucifixion, which would fulfil the purpose of His incarnation: the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven. In the same way, the Ascension fulfils the glory of His resurrection. In fact, we say that Christ ascended in glory. To those who have become blind, ‘Give God the glory!’ is nothing more than a legal formula (v. 24), yet, like Celidonius, the swallow who followed Christ, we know that ‘Christianity is not Law, but Life’ (6).
1 ‘At Odds with the Powers that be: The Sunday of the Blind Man’ by Edith Humphrey https://orthochristian.com/94089.html
3 ‘The Sunday of the Blind Man’, OCA, https://www.oca.org/saints/all-lives/1996/05/19
5 ‘Our Ascended Lord: The Saving Swallow Who Opened the Way to the Eternal Spring’
6 Fr. Alexander Tefft, ‘Behind the Wall’, Newsletter of St. Botolph’s Orthodox parish, London, May 2020.