10th Sunday After Pentecost
In the Gospel reading for today, our Lord is approached by a man whose son is sick and possessed by a demon. The child often falls into the fire and into the water. The disciples were not able to cure him. Jesus responds ‘O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him here to Me.’ The child is brought to our Lord and He immediately rebukes the demon and cures the child. The disciples are confused and frustrated, saying ‘Why could we not cast out this demon?’ Our Lord tells them that they could not cast out the demon because of their unbelief. If only they had the faith of a mustard seed, they could move mountains. And that this kind of demon does not go out except by prayer and fasting.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the message to us is clear… The effectiveness of our spiritual life is directly proportional to the health of our faith in God, and that health of our faith is related to the effort we put forth to exercise that faith.
When our faith is lacking, we become spiritually weak and unhealthy, our ‘spiritual immune system’ as it were, fails us and we are more easily susceptible to sin, doubt, and all manner of problems. Indeed, as Christ’s initial response indicates, our faithlessness perverts us and opens us up to the negative influence of the evil one.
So, how do we acquire and strengthen our faith? Tito Colliander, in his book The Way of the Ascetics sums it up very plainly: ‘Faith comes not through pondering but through action. Not words and speculation but experience teaches us what God is. To let in fresh air, we have to open a window; to get tanned, we must go out into the sunshine. Achieving faith is no different; we never reach a goal by just sitting in comfort and waiting, say the holy Fathers. Let the Prodigal Son be our example. He “arose and came”.’
What action can we take to enliven our faith? Our Lord teaches us the means by which we acquire an active and loving faith in God… it is through prayer and fasting. And let us qualify that… because sadly, the call to prayer and fasting may be taken as a troublesome burden to our life. Fasting is not about resentful submission to a limited diet. And prayer is not about hurried reading of prescribed texts. Such approaches might have some benefit in disciplining ourselves toward prayer and fasting, but they are not at all what prayer and fasting are about. Both prayer and fasting are offerings to God… they are both sacrifices and exaltations springing forth from a heart which yearns in love and gratitude for her Lord and Savior. It is from such earnest prayer and fasting that true faith is born and flourishes.
And that faith, even the faith of a mustard seed, can move mountains.
The event we commemorate on this day is a splendid example of the power of faith. Today we honor the miraculous appearance of the Mother of God on Mt Pochaev, in what is now the country of Ukraine. This event is a potent example of the power of faith and of prayer offered from hearts burning with love for God.
The Pochaev Monastery had its beginnings in the early part of the 16th century when some monks from Kiev beheld an appearance of the Mother of God on the top of the hill in Pochaev. The Mother of God was seen within a pillar of fire and when the apparition departed, she left her footprint on the rock upon which she stood. From that footprint flowed a miraculous spring of healing water. A Monastery and magnificent temple were built upon the site of the appearance of the Mother of God. A wonderworking icon of the Mother of God was donated which portrays the footprint upon the rock. Many miracles have occurred through this icon.
In the 17th century, a monk by the name of Job lived and struggled in this holy place. St Job was the monastery’s abbot for many years and was instrumental in defending Pochaev against the Roman Catholics who were making incursions into the region at that time. St Job’s incorrupt relics are located in the lower cave church to this day.
So, the event which we celebrate today occurred in 1675, when the monastery was surrounded by enemies to the faith. The Tartar armies under the Turks were about to overtake the monastery when the abbot Iosif Dubromirsky urged the brethren and all those present to prostrate themselves before the icon of the Mother of God of Pochaev and plead for her protection and intercession. On the morning of this day, 343 years ago, as the sun was rising, all those present in the church began singing the Akathist Hymn to the Mother of God. With the first words, ‘Queen of the Heavenly Host’, the Mother of God appeared over the church surrounded by angels brandishing swords. The enemies surrounding the monastery were terrified and confused by the vision and began shooting their arrows at the Mother of God and the angels. Those arrows fell back upon them like boomerangs and, in their great confusion, the armies trampled and fell upon one another. The monastery was saved and the people glorified God and His Most Pure Mother for their heavenly intercession.
I have had the great privilege of being in Pochaev monastery on several occasions. There you can venerate the incorrupt relics of St Job, the miraculous icon of the Mother of God, and you can kiss the footprint of the Mother of God and drink the healing waters which still flow from the spring. Within the magnificent church of the Dormition, there is a huge icon depicting this battle and this miraculous appearance of the Mother of God. The community of Pochaev, and indeed all of the Orthodox world, remembers this great event and this assurance of the power of faith and prayer.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ… do not allow the evil one and the spirit of this age to cast doubt upon your faith. This spirit of faithlessness hangs over our world like a shroud, blocking out the light of faith. We must take courage and each one of us dare to take on the responsibility to be an antidote to the doubt and confusion abounding in this world today. Never underestimate the power of faith and of the importance of even one faithful soul standing in intercession for the world.