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Christ is risen!

In 1772 one of the most beloved and widely known Christian songs ever was written. I dare say that most if not all of us know the song “Amazing Grace.” But, did you know it was written by a man who was a slave trader? in 1772 a man named John Newton survived a horrific shipwreck. Being rescued at sea, he finally made port at Donegal, Ireland. He sat down and wrote these words:

Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see

The idea that salvation is a change from blindness to sight is not a new idea. In fact, it is an old metaphor to describe the change in a person who abandons the self-centered way of living for the soul-saving sight of following Jesus Christ. It really is a change from being blind to finally being able to see what’s true, what’s real, and what’s most important in all the world.

Look at our lesson in Acts 8:40; 9:1-19:

IN THOSE DAYS, Philip was found at Azotos, and passing on he preached the gospel to all the towns till he came to Caesarea. But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he journeyed he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him. And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him. “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, ” I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting; but rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul arose from the ground; and when his eyes were opened, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for a man of Tarsus named Saul; for behold, he is praying, and he has seen a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to thy saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call upon thy name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came, has sent me that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized, and took food and was strengthened.

St. Paul’s conversion story is dramatic and life-changing for the then Saul of Tarsus. We say “so long” to St. Philip and his work with the Ethiopian eunuch and we are introduced to “Saul” as he is zealously hunting the early Christians whom he considers apostates from the Jewish faith. Saul has a direct confrontation with the risen Jesus as Saul is on his way to Damascus to arrest Christians there. And Saul is never the same again, thank God.

Saul’s conversion begins with a “great Light” from heaven that stops Saul in his tracks. His conversation with Jesus shows the great love the Lord has for this zealous but misguided man and Saul is directed to a “street called Straight” where Saul will hear the Gospel from a very wary Ananias. Saul is blinded by the Light at first but his humbled repentance and obedience to Christ see his sight restored and all the Gentile world is going to have a champion Apostle to see even those who didn’t get the head start of being Jewish first hear the Good News.

But every conversion, no matter when and to whom it happens, is the same. The Light dawns in our hearts and we, not used to the brightness of God’s love for us, are arrested by Him. But this blindness gives way to insight as we obey the Good News and embrace the risen Lord! From blindness to seeing should be the common experience of all of us who call ourselves Christians. It is telling that we too often fail to appreciate those moments in life when we finally “see” the Light. Those treasured moments are marks and memorials that God loves us and still knows us and calls us to Himself.

St. Irene (which, in Greek, means “peace”) was the daughter of a nobleman named Licinius. She was named by her parents Penelope, but she was renamed Irene after her Christian baptism. St. Irene wanted her family to join her in the Faith so she destroyed the family idols. In his anger, her father ordered her to be trampled to death by horses, but she suffered no harm during the ordeal. However, one of the horses rose up and knocked her father to the ground, killing him. St. Irene prayed for him and his life returned and the whole family joined her in converting to Christ. St. Irene suffered many persecutions in her travels sharing the Faith and many miracles were attested to in her missionary activities. She fell asleep in the Lord in the fourth century and today the island of Santorini (a corruption of the name St. Irene) is especially dedicated to this great saint’s memory. Seeing the Light of Christ changed St. Irene’s life and the lives of countless others because of her witness.

Today, do you find your life filled with the Light? Yes, I know it’s hard at first, but if you will stick with it, the Light that blinds you with His glory gives way to the “scales” finally falling from your eyes, and a clarity dawns that sets you free to live a Light-filled Normal Orthodox Christian life!

P.S. O Lord Jesus, unto You Your lamb does cry with a great voice: O my Bridegroom, You I love; and seeking You, I now contest, and with Your baptism am crucified and buried. I suffer for Your sake, that I may reign with You; for Your sake, I die, that I may live in You: accept me offered out of longing to You as a spotless sacrifice. Lord, save our souls through her intercessions since You are great in mercy.

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