My dear friends in our Lord: Glory to Jesus Christ!
Last week, we saw the Lord performing the miracle of the loaves and the fishes, using His apostles as His instruments in this, since the apostles were the ones who brought forth and distributed the loaves and the fishes. It was through their service that the Lord then wrought the miracle itself.
But this week, we hear of the disciples being unable to cast out a demon.
In today’s Gospel, we hear the familiar record, of a father bringing his possessed son unto the Lord. This father recounts that under the influence of the possessing demon, his son sometimes throws himself into fire, and sometimes into water, and he had previously brought his son to the Lord’s disciples, but they could not deliver him.
[The Lord] said: O unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you? Bring him hither to Me. And Jesus rebuked him, and the devil went out of him, and the child was cured from that hour.
Once again, we see that by one word from Him Who is the Word, the situation is resolved.
Then came the disciples to Jesus secretly, and said: Why could not we cast him out? Jesus said to them: Because of your unbelief.
Even having just seen and having participated in a great miracle, as we heard last week; even having been explicitly given the grace and the power over unclean spirits, still the disciples suffered from unbelief. The disciples did not believe that they could cast out the demon; they doubted that the demoniac could be healed, although they had already healed many others. Therefore, when the father brought his son to them to expel the demon, they met with no success.
Remember that lesson from previous weeks? The necessity of faith for the Lord to work the cures which He had done? Remember how He saw the faith of the paralytic man, and how He said: According to thy faith be it done unto thee? Remember how he asked the blind men who were following Him and calling out: Do you believe that I can do this unto you?
For, amen I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain: Remove from hence hither, and it shall remove, and nothing shall be impossible to you.
Faith is needed for miracles to be worked. And such faith is born of boldness before God – not a brashness, not presumption, and certainly not hubris – but boldness; that boldness that comes only from pleasing God.
Great honesty, selflessness, and abandonment to the will of God are needed to acquire such boldness before Him. And to this end, the Lord concludes by saying:
But this kind is not cast out, but by prayer and fasting.
Fasting greatly supports and strengthens prayer. When the body is strong and the mind acts in stillness, then prayer becomes more powerful than anything. For this reason these two virtues ought always to be joined together. If one is a slave to one’s appetite, it is extremely difficult for him to be selfless in the work of grace as he ought to be.
And do we not see around us the frenzied acts of the demons, just like the poor boy in today’s Gospel? One moment he throws himself into fire, another into water. We can see the same directionless action all around us – opposing ideologies, fire and water, yet in the end they both serve only the purpose of harming the individual. Simply because they methods of destruction are opposed to each other does not mean that they are not directed by the same enemy.
We see that everywhere. Whether under the banner of secular politics, or under the color of spirituality. Conservatism – progressivism. Modernism – traditionalism. Fire – water. Without the grace of God, all of these can lead to destruction. And this kind is not cast out, but by prayer and fasting.
Prayer and fasting. Not talking and debating. Not bombast and rhetoric. Not hubris or self-appointment. Not studying and citation. Not even by inquiry and figuring things out. For we walk by faith and not by sight. And faith is necessary for healing. Faith, and prayer, and fasting.
We are now ourselves in the midst of a brief season of fast within the Church, the Dormition Fast. It is good for us to remember the great benefits which accrue the soul by combining a joyful fast with heartfelt prayer.
Having heard the word of our Lord, let us be zealous in prayer and fasting, as the Lord said, so as to drive far away the passions which trouble us and this world. The Christian who fasts is lightened in her spirit; she prays with sobriety.
Let us not be fascinated by or thrown about by the ephemeral, now into the fire, now into the water. But let us set our hearts upon the unchanging and the eternal. Thus may obtain deliverance now, and the blessings of Christ Jesus our Lord in eternity.