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 attempted to cure him, but they could not. 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. He emphasizes that if only they had the faith of a mustard seed, they could move mountains. And finally, He clarifies that this kind of demon does not go out except by prayer and fasting.
Today’s Gospel reading underscores for us that the effectiveness of our spiritual life is directly proportional to the health of our faith in God. The disciples were not able to cast out the demon because of the weakness of their faith. When our faith is lacking, we become spiritually weak and unhealthy, our ‘spiritual immune system’ fails us and we are more easily susceptible to sin, doubt, and all manner of problems. In that weakened state, not only are we more vulnerable to sin, but that lack of faith makes our prayers feeble and less effective… and this has consequences not just for us, but for those close to us and even for the whole world.
It really is a demonically vicious cycle… the faithlessness so prevalent in the world today and the consequent incidents of evil across the globe distress us and can sow the seed of despair in our hearts. That seed of despair then weakens our faith… we see the state of things and we feel powerless. And round and round it goes…
It is all very reminiscent of the position of the Apostles in today’s Gospel reading – feeling powerless against the demons that throw us into the fires of passion and conflict or into the waters of fear and depression. Why can we not cast out these demons and why can we not find peace within ourselves when such troubles erupt all around us?
Christ responds to the Apostles when they express their frustration and powerlessness: ‘O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring these troubles to Me.’
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is very easy to feel discouraged when we see the sorry state of the world, when we feel increasingly alienated from the direction the world is heading, when even those close to us go astray and/or suffer from various afflictions. These troubles weigh on the soul.
It is as Fr Gerasim Schmalz, the caretaker of St Herman’s Spruce Island hermitage, said when reflecting on the increasing troubles of the world… he said: ‘Christian love is evaporating from this world.’
So, what are we to do in the face of this growing apostasy? If Christian love is evaporating from this world, let us not wring our hands in despair, frustration or condemnation; let us bring all things to the Lord, moistening the parched earth with our tears of repentance and prayer.
We must bring all things with faith and with trust to God. Our Lord has told us, ‘These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.’
It is a great temptation for us to be manipulated and agitated by all the news and datapoints that come at us like an avalanche. Let us not allow our emotions to be manipulated by all of these things - responding with irritation, frustration, or despair. Remember, we are not impotent against such things… we are Christians! Let us heed the call of Christ and respond to everything by prayer and fasting – making sure that we are not fooling ourselves with complaints of wars in distant places while we allow our own home and our own heart to become a battleground because we’re so agitated!
Christ did not promise that if we have faith we will overcome all problems… Christ’s promise is that if we have faith our problems will not overcome us!
We must not let the temptations of the evil one throw us into the fire of enraged passions, frustration, anger, and all manner of overheated reactions. We must also not let such temptations throw us into the water of cold indifference, apathy, and hopelessness. We are called by Christ to fast and to pray.
We are in the final days of the Dormition Fast – preparing ourselves for the feast of the falling asleep of the Mother of God. This is an excellent opportunity for us to engage in the power of prayer and fasting as a response to the troubles occurring in our world.
The weapons of prayer and fasting are not to be underestimated. St Theophan the Recluse tells us that fasting defends and protects us from the outside influences of the evil one, whereas prayer acts from within, directing a fiery weapon against the enemies of our soul. The demons can sense one who fasts and prays from a distance, and they run far away from such a one so as avoid a painful blow.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, take courage! God has not left us defenseless, He has not and never will abandon us.
If the love of Christ is evaporating on this earth, let us not despair. Let us not be hopeless. As long as there is one person standing at prayer, calling out in their heart to God for His mercy, then God will sustain us and will indeed have mercy on us. God is calling you to be that man or woman of prayer: assuring that the lamp of faith and love for God does not go out. If each one of us took that call seriously - denying our self, taking up the cross of prayer and intercession, and following after Christ with all of our heart – then the love for God shall not evaporate, but our tears will water the earth and nourish the seed of faith.