“It is simply undeniable that, as a fact, there have been any number of miracles attesting the one, sublime, and saving miracle of Christ’s Ascension into heaven with the flesh in which He arose from the dead.”
With these words, Saint Augustine of Hippo reminded the faithful that within fourth century Christendom miracles were wrought, each and every miracle affirming the Lord’s Resurrection on the Third Day by which He ascended in glory to the right hand of the Father. Thanks be to our Good and Gracious God, He continues to work in Creation; from century to century He intervenes in the laws of nature as He sees fit and when He sees fit.
“Miracles are not impossible from a logical standpoint, and right reason does not deny them,” concludes Dr. Constantine Cavarnos when reflecting upon the life of St. Nectarios of Aegina. He continues, “Natural laws do not have the claim to be the only ones, nor are they threatened with being overturned by the appearance of other laws, supernatural ones, which also are conducive to the development and furtherance of creation… Miracles are consequence of the Creator’s love for his creatures.”
Who are the workers of such wonders of God? The fourth century saint, John Cassian suggests:
The grace of working miracles is to be found among specially chosen and just men. It is quite evident that the apostles and many saints worked miracles and wonders. This was in accordance with what the Lord Himself had commanded when He said, ‘Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, expel the demons. You have freely received. Give freely.’ (Matthew 10:8)
Eusebius of Caesarea writes of a particular miracle wrought by one especially chosen by God in the second century, the holy Narcissus.
“The citizens of that parish [in Alexandria] mention many other miracles of Narcissus . . . among which they relate the following wonder as performed by him . . .. [T] he oil once failed while the deacons were watching through the night at the great Paschal Vigil. Thereupon, the whole multitude being dismayed, Narcissus directed those who attended to the lights to draw water and bring it to him. This being immediately done he prayed over the water and with firm faith in the Lord commanded them to pour it into the lamps. And when they had done so, contrary to all expectation, by a wonderful and divine power the nature of the water was changed into that of oil. A small portion of it has been preserved even to our day by many of the brethren there as a memento of the wonder.”
In the third century, Saint Gregory of Neocasearea was also blessed with the grace of working miracles. In fact, so great were his miracles that he bears the title, “Thaumatorgus” or “Wonderworker.” “Gregory was a great and conspicuous lamp, illuminating the church of God,” wrote Saint Basil the Great. “He possessed, from the co-operation of the Spirit, a formidable power against the demons, that he turned the course of rivers by giving them orders in the name of Christ; and that his predictions of the future made him the equal of other prophets.” By both his friends and his enemies, Basil concludes, Gregory was regarded “as another Moses.”
Of course, these are by no means the only workers of wonders. As I noted at the onset of this lesson, there are miracle workers in each and every generation. Bishop Nikolai of blessed memory goes so far as to note that even the devil attempts such feats.
Satan attempts to perform miracles through his servants, such as Simon the Magician. But these are not wrought out of love for mankind, compassion, mercy, or faith in God, but from pride, selfishness, vanity and hatred for mankind. Christians should learn to differentiate between divine miracles – such as Peter turning the stony hearts of man into noble and devout hearts, healing the sick, raising the dead through prayer and faith in the living God – and Satan’s deceptions and fantasies.
The means by which we discern between divine miracles and those of the devil is through a sincere and ever-abiding faith. Father Paisios of blessed memory teaches that with faith, we are not simply witnesses of but instead participants in divine events.
When someone goes through life with faith, without doubt, and asks for God’s help, he will experience gradually in the beginning small events and later greater ones and will become more faithful. Living the divine mysteries up close, he becomes a theologian, because he doesn’t comprehend them with his mind but actually lives them. His faith keeps growing, because he moves in another sphere, with divine events. But in order to live the mysteries of God, one must be divested of the old self, and, in a sense, return to the condition before the Fall. One must have innocence and simplicity so that his faith may be unshakeable and absolutely certain that there is nothing God cannot do.
It is for this reason that St. John of the Ladder cautions the faithful not to question the activity of God, for there is nothing God cannot do. Remarkable things happen in proximity to the holy. “Let no one on seeing or hearing something supernatural in the monastic way of life fall into unbelief out of ignorance; for where the supernatural God dwells, much that is supernatural happens.”
What though is the greatest of miracles? Saint John Chrysostom provides the following answer:
As to miracles, they oftentimes, while they profited another, have injured the one who had the power, by lifting him up to pride and vainglory, or maybe in some other way ...These then let us perform with much diligence. For if you change from inhumanity to almsgiving, you have stretched forth the hand that was withered. If you withdraw from theaters and go to the church, you have cured the lame foot. If you draw back your eyes from an harlot, and from beauty not your own, you have opened them when they were blind. If instead of satanical songs, you have learned spiritual psalms, being dumb, you have spoken. These are the greatest miracles, these are the wonderful signs.
Sadly, there are those in modern Christendom who don’t believe in miracles, or put another way, are unable to see the beauty and ability of God to work wonders. Bishop Nikolai of blessed memory reminds the Orthodox faithful that to a great extent:
Protestants have rejected God’s power to work miracles through created matter, thinking to spiritualize the Christian faith thereby, but they have merely impoverished and deformed it. They have rejected the action of God’s power through icons, through relics of saints, through the Cross, and some of them have even rejected the power of Holy Communion.
Why is this the case? Ultimately, “One must believe in God with philotimo, not by expecting to be convinced through a miracle” says Fr. Paisios.
When I see grown up people asking for a miracle in order to believe, I get very annoyed. If they were young children, there would be some excuse. But for adults who have done nothing for Christ to say, “We must see something in order to believe,” well, this is very cheap. Even if they saw a miracle, do you think such people would be helped to believe? They would probably say that it’s a trick, it’s sorcery and so on.
Although each of us through faith must accept the validity of miracles, that is the wonderful workings of God, thankfully, we are not all expected to heal the sick, raise the dead and so on. Let us find solace in Saint Anthony the Great who taught, “Good behavior for acquiring virtues is better than performing miracles.” Let us also find comfort and another perspective in the admonition of St. John of the Ladder to his brethren:
“When we die, we will not be criticized for having failed to work miracles. We will not be accused of having failed to be theologians or contemplatives. But we will certainly have some explanation to offer to God for not having mourned unceasingly.” And, what is mourning but “…a melancholy of the soul, a disposition of an anguished heart that passionately seeks what it thirsts for, and when it fails to attain it, pursues it diligently and follows behind it lamenting bitterly.
I close with the words of Fr. Paisios:
Secular logic, then this kind of logic has no place at all in the spiritual life. Angels and Saints, enter through our windows, we can see them talk with them, and then they leave…There is no way that one can explain this logically. Today, increased knowledge and trust in logic has unfortunately, shaken our faith to its foundations and filled our souls with question marks and doubts. This is why we don’t have miracles anymore, because a miracle cannot be explained logically, it can only be experienced. But faith in God will bring down divine power and overturn all human expectations. It will perform miracles, resurrect the dead and astonish science. From the outside, all things pertaining to the spiritual life seem upside down.
Indeed, the mysteries of God will be impossible to know and will appear strange and contrary to nature as long as we don’t overturn our secular mindset and see everything with spiritual eyes. Those who believe that they can come to know God’s mysteries through mere scientific theory, without a spiritual life, resemble a fool who thinks he can look through a telescope and see Paradise.