My dear friends in our Lord: Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
Having now already passed four weeks in this great fast, we might find that we are inclined to get tired, either physically, or more especially mentally. In the middle of the fast, it is very easy to fall into the rut of exhaustion. Knowing this, the Holy Church this week reminds us that the path of Great Lent IS, in fact, a difficult ascent to God in the Kingdom of Heaven, and we should not allow our exertion to overcome us or to cause us discouragement. For like any ascent, the path of fasting is a considerable work, it is an elevation from one step to another, one step at a time. Just as it is humanly impossible for us to immediately jump to the top of a mountain, instead having to climb its slope, step by step, from stone to stone, similarly, it is impossible for us to overcome our habits of sin and selfishness right away. It is necessary that we be constantly overcoming ourselves, to overcome one passion after another, and only then we will be able, with God’s help, to reach the summit of virtues.
In today’s Gospel we hear how the Lord healed a young man who was troubled with an unclean spirit.
St. Gregory in his sermon on today’s Gospel writes: “Observe carefully the evangelist’s words. When the boy’s father heard that healing would follow upon his own faith, he said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.’ See what excellent moral progress he had made! He not only believes that the boy could be healed, but also that the Lord could overcome his own lack of faith, if he was willing.”
There are wonderful words that are said by the father in today’s Gospel, my friends. Better even to call them a prayer, for so they are: I do believe, Lord: help my unbelief. The father of the boy pronounced these words with tears, truly believing in the Saviour. His tears are evidence that this prayer to God came from the heart. Here in one phrase lies both repentance and appeal to the Lord in faith.
Now let us pay attention to the behavior of the father, who turned first not to the Savior, but to His disciples. Obviously, in his humility, he considered himself unworthy to go directly to the Master, not willing to disturb Him. It is only when the apostles could not help that he dares to turn to Christ himself.
And we see that when he comes, the Lord asks the father, “How long time is it since this hath happened unto him?” And the father replied that it had been occurring from the boy’s infancy, that is, his son’s entire life. Nothing so concerns and worries a parent than that their child is suffering, seeing one of their children tormented by misfortune or illness. Here, not only the boy had suffered, but also the father.
However, today the Lord made it clear: the father suffered not in vain. He needed it so that, empathizing with the sufferings of his son, he would acquire that remarkable quality of soul — humility, and through humility — faith. For the love of his own son, the father sincerely wanted to believe, but his faith was apparently not strong enough to heal the boy. But in sincere hope and trust he turned to the Lord to strengthen him. And the Lord, by his humble prayer, strengthened his faith, and immediately by this faith the son was healed.
Sometimes, wanting to help the misfortune of those we care about, we can wonder what to do, how to respond, what to resort to? We must resort to prayer. We must cry out to God, so that He will strengthen our faith within us, which faith, according to the word of the Holy Gospel, can move mountains. We must genuinely seek to pray with patience and with attention, with the deepest humility, in order that our prayer might be heard. For truly, if our prayer of petition is not fulfilled, it is not because the Lord does not want to fulfill it. Our prayer can be fruitless because of our lack of trust or our lack of humility. And when we have so strengthened our faith and grown in genuine humility, learning the salutary lessons that the Lord expects us to learn, then our prayers will be fulfilled. This is what the Gospel of today teaches us.
And it teaches us not only that. For when the disciples, after the healing of the boy, asked of the Lord, “Why could not we cast him out?” The Lord said, “This kind can go out by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.”
The Lord thus teaches us that demonic temptation is cast out by prayer and fasting. But how can a person who is under the influence of an evil spirit, being obsessed with and by it, pray for the benefit of himself? Such a terrible evil demon as that referred to in today’s Gospel, is infused especially in the young. It is a demon of unbridledness, which then throws them into the fire – such are the promiscuous and prodigal passions… and then it immerses them in the water – and here are expressed such passions as gluttony and drunkenness. This deaf and dumb demon dwells in people of this kind, since they do not want to talk of divine things nor do the want to listen about divine things. They shut their mouths and their ears to become deaf and dumb to repentance and to humility.
When one is demon-driven, he cannot heal himself. And so it is that a healthy and believing person should help him, doing for his sake what the sick person would do if he had a free mind. For this it is absolutely necessary for the helper to cast out the works of the demons of impurity, selishness, avarice, envy, anger, hatred, from himself, and to beg the Lord’s help in healing. Then will he have that faith which is capable of daringly asking the Lord for the healing of his loved ones, and of those obsessed with the action of evil spirits.
Our Lord Jesus Christ came to this world to destroy the works of the devil, and to free us from the work of the enemy and from his power. But we know that the devil was defeated by Christ, but not destroyed, not expelled from this world, and therefore, by our own choice, we might yet consent – or even invite – the influence of the enemy within our lives. The enemy of the human race, sometimes by our carelessness, our lack of vigilance, sneaks about stealthily and acts on our mind and soul with secret suggestions. Together with sensual passions, he settles in our hearts and takes root in them.
Each of us can be tempted by demons: we are tempted by the demons of doubt, despondency, despair, partiality, drunkenness, impurity, anger, greed … These devils want to destroy our soul, like the boy in today’s Gospel whom they threw into fire or water. And we often, instead of fighting with these demons, succumb to them, and we even consider the evil thoughts and inclinations they inspire within us to be our own. It is in this state of great confusion that we no longer even know ourselves, for we begin to identify ourselves with the inspirations of the devils. We become obedient slaves to every un-natural whim, even to the point of shamelessly demanding our every whim in the public square, and calling this diseased and raving slavery our “freedom.”
The only remedy to this false freedom is genuine freedom. Each of us needs liberation from these hostile and anti-human forces. And how to drive them out? Only by prayer and fasting, repentance and abstaining from sin. Man cannot overcome sin by his own efforts. Only with the help of the Lord will we be able to get rid of demons, when we will use all our will, all our strength not to sin, but to turn to God, crying from our hearts with tears, “I do believe, Lord: help my unbelief.”
In order for fasting to be salutary for us and to cast out from our hearts the spirits of despondency, negligence, avarice, and idle talk, as we say daily in the prayer of Saint Ephrem, the Lord commands that our soul ascend to God in prayer. “Prayer,” writes Saint John Climacus, whom we also commemorate on this Lord’s Day, “is the converse and union of man with God, and by reason of its action upholds the world and brings about reconciliation with God; prayer is the mother and also the daughter of tears, the propitiation for sins, a bridge over temptations, a wall against afflictions, a crushing of conflicts, work of angels, food of all the spiritual beings, future gladness, boundless activity, the spring of virtues, the source of graces, invisible progress, food of the soul, the enlightening of the mind.”
The Lord commands us to pray without ceasing with our whole soul, not mechanically, not only with tongue and mouth, but with our minds and our hearts. How can the Lord hear our prayer when, praying, we do not genuinely talk to Him, but merely talk at Him? May our heartfelt and intelligent prayer, strengthening our faith, be ever ardent and unceasing. Whether we travel, eat, work, rest, let us work all things with prayer, in the fear of God, to His glory, calling upon His holy name. With a pure mind and a humble heart, we will pray to Almighty God, that he might save us from all demonic madness and delusion, and from everything that defiles the heart and soul.
Finally, at the end of today’s gospel, we heard the Lord teaching His disciples and telling them that the Son of Man would be betrayed into the hands of men, and they would kill Him, and after being killed, on the third day he would rise again. But the disciples, the Gospel told us, did not understand these words and were afraid to ask Him. In these words, the evangelist reminds us how constant and sometimes difficult is the spiritual path, full of struggling and suffering, a path on which you need to overcome yourself in order not to do merely what you want, nor even what you might at that moment understand, but what God commands. This is the path that requires courage and fortitude. Therefore, the Lord so wisely concludes this Gospel with the words of the suffering of the Cross.
Let us ask the Lord that peace, prayer, and contrition for sins dwell in our hearts on our way of purification and salvation. Let us pray, my dear friends, that our gracious Heavenly Father might give us humility, faith, and love, which will grow in our hearts and lead us to salvation.