On the day of the Pentecost the Lord sent the Holy Spirit to His newly-established Church. All the Gospel readings that follow the feast of the Descent of the Holy Spirit tell us what we should do in order to attain the Heavenly Realm, offer us the example of all the saints – what they did, how they sought and attained the Kingdom of God. However, in the Gospel reading on the Roman centurion we are no longer given instruction, but a concrete example from life itself: we are given an example of the spiritual foundation, the basic quality from which begins the way to the Kingdom of God.
The Gospel reading on the centurion offers us the example of a Roman centurion, a pagan, who is a model of extraordinary humility. Eons ago the supreme angel, Lucifer, fell because of his extreme pride and was forever deprived of the Kingdom of God. Now the Church points out to us that a return to God can be achieved through an opposite state of mind, that pride must be counteracted by humility, and that the Roman centurion is an amazing example of this.
His social standing made the Roman centurion master not only over the hundred soldiers under his command, but also over all the Jews and, by extension, over Christ too, since the Jews at that time were enslaved by the Romans.
This centurion had a favorite servant. And the servant became sick and suffered terribly. The centurion was told that among the Jews under his rule there was a certain extraordinary Man, Who had a supernatural power of healing. But the centurion was a pagan. He knew nothing of the Judaic faith, he was not acquainted with the Holy Writ, he did not know that the Jews were awaiting the coming of a Messiah. And although for him Christ was a great Man, He was still only a Man, and One Who, besides, was subject to him. The centurion could quite easily have simply sent for Christ, could have summoned Him to his side.
Yet regard, dear brethren, the amazing beauty and power which manifest themselves in the divine qualities of humility and love: out of love for his neighbor a master becomes like a slave, while humility erases all social boundaries. The centurion had only one thought in mind: his servant is in danger and this unusual Man can help him. And so the centurion personally comes to Christ. He comes and he pleads: not for his wife, nor for a son, nor for a daughter or a father or mother… but for a servant. And, moreover, he pleads with a Jew who has been subjugated by Rome. A Roman citizen pleads for mercy, pleads like a slave before his master.
The centurion says to Christ: “Lord, my servant lies at home, sick of the palsy and grievously tormented.” That is all he said. With these few words he expressed his sorrow. And this sorrow he has brought to Christ. And now he stands and humbly waits for an answer. “I will come and heal him,” – Christ quickly replies. How simple it all is.
But look, dear brethren, at what is happening here, look at the sublime heights to which the centurion’s faith and humility rise. He stops Christ. “Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst come under my roof…” Do you hear what he says, dear brethren: I am unworthy… But this is genuine repentance, this is the same as if he had said: Lord, I am a sinner before Thee. “But speak only one word, and my servant shall be healed.” Only one word… Even the Lord Himself was amazed by such faith. “Verily I say unto you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”
But the centurion’s faith was so simple, so very humble: “I am a man under authority,” – he said to Christ, – “but I have soldiers under me. I say to one: go, and he goes, and to another: come, and he comes.” What do these words mean? Just this: Lord, You are Master over illness and health, over life and death… Speak only one word!
And Christ said this word: “Go, and as you have believed, so let it be unto you.” And his servant was healed in that very same hour.
Such was the reward for humility. This is what humility and strong faith can do, dear brethren! May the Lord grant us, too, this wonderful humility of the centurion! Amen.
Adapted from the writings of Archbishop Andrew Rimarenko