St John Chrysostom Homily 20 on the Acts of the Apostles
Concerning the Blindness of Saul and his healing by St. Ananias
After the great and saving day of Pascha, the Church assigns the reading from the Books of Acts and the Gospel of Saint John. Consider today’s reading and the words of the wise Saint John Chrysostom:
“And Ananias went, and entered into the house, and laid his hands upon him, and said, Brother Saul”—he straightway addresses him as a friend by that name- “Jesus, Who appeared unto thee in the way in which thou camest”–and yet Christ had not told him this, but he learnt it from the Spirit– “hath sent me unto thee, that thou mayest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.” (v. 17.) As he said this, he laid his hands upon him. “And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales.” (v. 18.)
Some say this was a sign of his blindness. Why did he not blind his eyes (entirely)? This was more wonderful, that, with his eyes open, he did not see: (v. 8) which was just his case in respect of the Law, until the Name of Jesus was put on him. “And he received sight forthwith, and. arose, and was baptized. And having taken food, he recovered strength.” (v. 19.) He was faint, therefore, both from his journey and from his fear; both from hunger, and from dejection of mind. Wishing therefore to deepen his dejection, He made the man blind until the coming of Ananias: and, that he might not imagine the blindness to be (only) fancy, this is the reason of the scales.
He needed no other teaching: that which had befallen was made teaching (to him). “And he was with the disciples which were at Damascus certain days. And straightway in the synagogues he preached Jesus, that He is the Son of God.” (v. 20.) See, straightway he was: a teacher in the synagogues. He was not a ashamed of the change, was not afraid while the very things in which he was glorious afore-time, the same he destroyed. Even from his first appearance on the stage here was a man, death-dealing, ready for deeds of blood: seest thou what a manifest sign (was here)? And with this very thing, he put all in fear: for, said they, Hither also is he come for this very thing. “But all that heard him were amazed, and said: Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests? But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.” (v. 21, 22.) As one learned in the Law, he stopped their mouths, and suffered them not to speak. They thought they were rid of disputation in such matters, in getting rid of Stephen, and they found another, more vehement than Stephen.
Beloved, such an amazing event was the conversion of Saul. The chosen-vessel, the mouth-piece of the Holy Spirit chosen by God to spread the Good News to Jew and Gentile, prince and pauper, spanning the breadth of the Roman Empire. Glorious are thy achievements, o foremost of the Apostle and teacher of the world!
In another homily, In Praise of Saint Paul, St. John Chrysostom reveals another mystery concerning the three days of blindness of Saul.
Because of his restive zeal and fervor he needed an even greater restraint lest he should be carried forward by the force of his zeal and forget what had been said to him. Accordingly, God first checked his frenzied zeal and used blindness as a means of restoring calm to the headlong words of his anger.
Saint John tells us further that the Lord did not blind Saul with darkness, but the excess of light that overshadowed him…in submitting to the incomprehensible Providence of God, which acts at the opportune moment.
And so it was, the conversion of Saul to Paul would be completed upon his baptism and his mission begun.
We see in this homily and the Acts an example that is applicable to us. How many of us have been in similar straights, blinded by zeal or anxiety. In Saul’s case it was a true blindness, though for us it could be any range of maladies. Let us too humble ourselves as Paul that the Lord may check our frenzied zeal and restore calm to our soul.