THE LAME MAN AND THE BLIND MAN

We recently examined an icon that included the image of Bishop Kyrill of Turov.  Today we will look at an uncommon icon type from the 16th century, based on a text by Kyrill.

(Russian State Museum, St. Petersburg)

The subject of this icon is Притча о хромце и слепце / Prichta o khromtse i sleptse —  “The Parable of the Lame Man and the Blind Man.”

If you look for the parable in the Bible, you will not find it.  It is a motif, however, found early on from India to Greece to Jewish literature — and of course it pops up again in the writings of Kirill of Turov.   In Kirill it is a sermon called “The Discourse on the Soul and the Body.”  Kirill intended it, however, as an attack on Bishop Feodor/Theodor of Rostov.

Kirill conflates the old tale of the lame man and the blind man with the story told in Matthew 21:33-46 about a man who puts others in charge of his vineyard while he travels, but they are dishonest and not only refuse to give the owner what is due him, but also kill his servants and his son.

The Parable depicted on the icon, however, is this:

A certain man (depicted as Jesus in the icon) made a vineyard, and put a fence and a gate around it.  He is afraid that if he puts an ordinary guard at the gate to protect it, it will not be secure.  So he decides to place a lame man (the body) and a blind man (the soul) at the gate, thinking that if a robber comes, the lame man will see him and the blind man will hear him.  And the owner thinks that the lame man and blind man will not be able to steal the grapes (blessings/wealth) themselves, because the lame man cannot walk into the vineyard, and the blind man cannot see what is there.  So putting these two in charge, the owner thinks the vineyard secure from theft.

It happens, however, that the two guards smell the delicious grapes, and the blind man devises a plan:  The blind man will take the lame man on his shoulders, and the lame man can direct the blind man.  If the owner suspects them, the blind man will say that of course he cannot see to steal, the the lame man will say that he is obviously unable to walk into the vineyard and steal.  Thus the two enter the vineyard — with the lame man on the blind man’s shoulders — and steal the grapes.

When the owner discovers the theft, each blames the other, one saying that if the blind man had not carried him, he would have been unable to steal, and the other saying that if the lame man had not ridden on his shoulders and directed him, there would have been no theft.

In spite of their protestations, the owner had his slaves beat them both and cast them into prison.

Kirill’s surface interpretation of this parable is that the owner of the vineyard is God, seen in the person of Jesus; the vineyard is the world and the blessings and wealth in it, which belong to God to dispense;  the fence around the vineyard is the commandments of God.  The servants of the owner are the angels.

The lame man is the human body, and the blind man the soul.  Placing them at the vineyard gate meant God gave them power over the earth, within the bounds of his commandments.  When man broke those commandments, his soul is brought before God, and says it is not he, but rather the body that has committed the offense.  So the soul is kept in prison until the Second Coming, when the dead will be resurrected and soul and body will be judged together, and sent into everlasting torture in Hell.

In the icon, we see all of this illustrated.  In the center we see Jesus putting lame man and the blind man at the gate to guard the vineyard.  Then we see the lame man on the blind man’s shoulders, as they steal grapes (blessings and wealth) inside.  At right, Jesus expels the untrustworthy pair from the vineyard.

At the top, we see the judgment by Jesus.  At right the soul is kept in a dark place until the resurrection.

At the bottom of the icon, we  see the man — as the unity of body and soul — being driven into Hades by a punishing angel.  And finally — in Hades — we see the body and the soul there for eternal punishment.

The real meaning hidden behind the allegory, however, was the bitter conflict between Kirill and Bishop Feodor/Theodore of Rostov.  It is all a fight over religio-political control, and as we know, from the time of Kievan Rus to present-day Russia, religion and politics have never been separate in that part of the world.

The situation was, some accounts say, that Prince Andrey Bogoliuskiy wanted  to have a bishop in Vladimir who would be entirely independent of the control of the Metropolitan of Kiev.  He and Feodor supposedly cooperated in a scam in which Theodore went to the Patriarch in Constantinople to be consecrated, telling the Patriarch that the Metropolitan of Kiev was dead, so the place was without a Metropolitan.  When the Kiev Metropolitan found out what had happened, he excommunicated Theodore of Rostov, and so the plan failed.  In Kirill’s text,  Feodor is the blind man (the soul), and the lame man is Andrey Bogoliubskiy, whom Feodor talks into the deception.  Feodor was eventually accused of heresy and condemned to death.  He died c. 1170.

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