Peter's Healing Shadow
Peter’s Healing Shadow
During our Lenten Retreat a little over a month ago, Bobby Maddex talked about the cinema and movies. He discussed the techniques directors and actors use to convey powerful themes and how Orthodox Christians can evaluate them and benefit from the best that film offers to us. One basic technique used by creative competent directors is light and darkness. Light can emphasize something important and it can communicate goodness. Darkness often is used to communicate that something bad or evil is happening. Shadows are one of the main ways of using darkness. Thus, shadows are often considered something bad or evil or less than perfect/ideal. Perhaps we can think of one movie shot in which a shadow appears, coupled with ominous music, to show that some evil has arrived and something bad is going to happen.
Psychologists even speak of shadows that are cast within the human person. This darkness exists within the mind and is created by previous experiences, especially from childhood relating to abuse and neglect.
Knowing all this, the account we hear in today’s Epistle reading from Acts 5:12-20 is all the more interesting. Remember, the Book of Acts is the story of the Apostles and the early Church after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into heaven. After Christ bestows the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and disciples, they are empowered to go out and preach the Gospel, teach the commandments of God and to heal the sick for the purpose of converting persons to also become followers of Jesus Christ. Thus, we hear:
12 Now many signs and wonders were done among the people through the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon's Portico. 13 None of the rest dared to join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 Yet more than ever believers were added to the Lord, great numbers of both men and women, 15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mats, in order that Peter's shadow might fall on some of them as he came by. 16 A great number of people would also gather from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all cured.
The Apostles Peter’s fame was so strong that people believed his shadow had the power to heal—and it did. What a fascinating contrast to our typical understanding of the meaning and influence of a shadow. Everyone has a shadow. Everyone exerts an influence upon others that can be for good, not just bad. No one is neutral; no one counts for nothing. In Fr. Anthony Coniaris’ book “Treasures from Paul’s Letters” (vol.2, pp.65-69), we learn that the Greeks have a phrase “ehi kalo iskio” or “kaloiskiotos” to describe a person who has a good shadow and is thus blessed.
Fr. Coniaris share the following story: A director of nursing trains other nurses, her primary instruction is to be nutritious person, not a toxic one. Nutritious implies providing nutrients which sustain life and we’re not talking about drugs, medications and food. It has to do with the “way nurses talk, the way they touch, the way they listen, the way they offer encouragement, the way their build hope.” Nutritious nurses create an atmosphere “in which God can perform a healing ministry.” Toxic nurses can talk, touch, listen but it infects their patients “with fear, doubt and anxiety.” The same is true in many professions and people in general. Are we nutritious persons who sustain life or toxic persons who destroy it. What kind of shadow do we cast—one that gives life, or one that takes life.
In 1888, Alfred Nobel, the Swedish chemist and inventor of dynamite, awoke and read the newspaper and discovered his own obituary. It was a mistake of course. His brother had died and carelessly reported Alfred’s death. But reading his own obituary shocked Alfred and disturbed him. He was labeled the “Dynamite King,” the man who made a fortune off of the destructive power of explosives. Alfred did not like the shadow he had cast across the world landscape. Thus, he changed his last will and testament to reflect his true values. When he died eight years later (1896) his fortune created the most valued prize for those work for world peace: the Nobel Peace Prize. What kind of legacy or shadow will we cast over the world when we depart unto the Lord?
In today’s Gospel reading (John 20:19-31) from this glorious Feast of Antipascha, we hear about Thomas doubting the witness of the other apostles, that Christ had risen from the dead (v.25). Despite seeing and touching the risen Christ, who appears to him today, eight days (v.26) after the resurrection; despite then confessing that Jesus is Lord and God after seeing and touching Him (v.28), He is still known to this day as “Doubting Thomas.” In fact, the nickname given to him back then, ‘Didymos’ or ‘The Twin,’ is interpreted to mean, not that he had a twin brother or sister, but that he was of a double mind—one doubting, the other believing. Think of Thomas’ legacy or shadow.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, let us remember that we all cast a shadow in life. We affect people in one way or another—either to become more hopeful or less hopeful. Simon Peter cast a shadow that healed others. Like the Apostle Peter, the person who stands in the light of Christ will cast a shadow that has healing power in it. The person who lives in the light of Christ, who enters God’s presence every day through prayer and every week will be filled with the Holy Spirit. They will become a nutritious person whose shadow radiates to other people the love, hope, peace, joy and faith of Jesus Christ. Likewise, nutritious persons participate in the Divine Liturgy every week. How can we bestow God’s life-giving nutrients unless we eat the most nutritious food of Christ’s own Body and Blood in the Eucharist.
The Church Fathers once said, “The one who goes into the perfume shop every day, even if he or she buys nothing, leaves the shop with a fragrance about them.” Our perfume shop is God’s holy presence which we enter through prayer, worship and the sacramental mysteries of the Church. “Through us (God) spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ” (2Corinthians 2:14-15). We proclaim and sing that “Christ is risen from the dead, by His death trampling down Death, and to those in the tombs, He has granted life.” Think of the shadow of the Cross and the power it has. How we bear adversity, pain and suffering will cast a shadow. Will it be a shadow that bestows life or takes life? Amen! Christ is Risen!