The Fourth Sunday of Lent
Memory Verse: And Jesus said to him, “If you can! All things are possible to him who believes.”
Beloved faithful, we have now passed the fourth week of Great Lent. Last week we looked upon the precious and life-saving and life-bestowing Cross, which was set forth in our midst to serve as a beacon, lighting our path to Pascha. By now our body weakens as we feel the effects of the fast. For many, ambitious goals are set at the beginning of Lent. Slowly but surely the necessities of life begin to deflate our ambitious goals. Let us take courage and not fall prey to despondency for there is still time to repent, to establish good and healthy habits.
The greater our effort, the greater the reward. Our spiritual life Parallels the life of an athlete. The struggle can seem difficult and long, yet we learn from today’s Gospel lesson that, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.” The words of our savior are a promise that if we believe in Him, we can triumph over the adversary, be it our belly,some vice, or some passion.
Some Years ago there was a popular slogan : “No pain, no gain”. Those involved in any sport or competition surely appreciate this mantra. When we stretch or lift weights we know we need to push ourselves. To strengthen ourselves, each time we struggle to lift more weight, to stretch farther, to do one more rep. Continued and sustained growth requires effort.
This exercise is no different for the spirit. In our spiritual life, what is this effort about which we speak? We speak of prayer and fasting. These are the two wings we use to ascend to the heavens. Why these are so important will be demonstrated shortly.
In today’s Gospel lesson we encounter a wondrous event from the Earthly ministry of our Lord. This event demonstrates quite clearly the importance of prayer and fasting. Our Lord just descended from Mt.Tabor, upon which He revealed a glimpse of His glory to the foremost of Apostles , Peter, James, and John. We remember this as the Holy Transfiguration of our Lord. What a glorious event this was as the pinnacles of the Prophets, Moses and Elias appeared next to the Lord, in the plain sight of the three Disciples. The Gospel lesson states that there was a crowd gathered and they marvelled when they beheld our Savior. The blessed Theophylact of Bulgaria tells us the reason being that our Savior’s countenance was still radiant from the Transfiguration!
In this scene we see the scribes challenging the Lord’s Disciples, the cause being their seeming inability to heal a boy who was possessed. The Scribes seized upon the inability of the Disciples to heal the boy, so there was much commotion. A man presses forward to see the Lord. He is saddened and desperate. The Lord, Who is the knower of all things directed that the boy be brought to Him. Some might have confusion about this saying – how is it possible that our Lord asked about the situation. Why did the Lord need to ask the father concerning the duration of the child’s illness. Doesn’t He know all things? Indeed, He does! Our Lord acts in a most sublime manner, proving beyond a doubt that He is the Known of all things. This question was asked for the multitude who did not know the boy nor the severity of his illness. Every generation also benefits and awes at the great power and love of our Saviour to heal this long-standing condition.
What happens next is a great demonstration of a Father’s love. The father begs our Lord to help him: ” if Thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us. Jesus said unto him, If THOU canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. ” The father stands before Him Who holdeth creation in the palm of His hand. The Lord sees the great potential of this man’s faith and challenges him that all things are possible to him who believes. Blessed is the father’s response , ‘Lord help my unbelief.
I would like to share an event from life of Saint John, the Abbot of Sinai, surnamed Climacus, whose memory we keep on the 4th Sunday of Great Lent. Once there was a drought in Palestine. At the request of the local inhabitants, Abba John prayed, and there was a heavy rainfall. But there is nothing extraordinary in that, for the Lord will do the will of them that fear Him, and He will hear their supplication.
Again, we remember a somewhat comical event, also adding further veracity to the power of faith. In the life of St. Mark the Ascetic, who lived during the 5th c., was a disciple of St John Chrysostom and tonsured a monk at the age of forty by St John himself , we learn of a certain conversation with his disciple, the Abba Serapion. During this conversation, St Mark inquired how things stood in the world. He asked about the Church of Christ, and whether persecutions against Christians still continued. Hearing that idol worship had ceased long ago, the saint rejoiced and asked, “Are there now in the world saints working miracles, as the Lord spoke of in His Gospel, ‘If ye have faith even as a grain of mustard seed, ye will say to this mountain, move from that place, and it will move, and nothing shall be impossible for you’ (Mt.17:20)?”
As the saint spoke these words, the mountain moved from its place 5,000 cubits (approximately 2.5 kilometers) and went toward the sea. When St Mark saw that the mountain had moved, he said, “I did not order you to move from your place, but was conversing with a brother. Go back to your place!” After this, the mountain actually returned to its place. Abba Serapion fell down in fright. St Mark took him by the hand and asked, “Have you never seen such miracles in your lifetime?” “No, Father,” Abba Serapion replied. Then St Mark wept bitterly and said, “Alas, today there are Christians in name only, but not in deeds.”
These are strong words, words which pierce us and with good reason. As we hear in today’s Gospel, the marriage of Prayer and Fasting was needed to cast away the demon. Both prayer and fasting are words of action. We need to act, we need to do something. In fulfilling these words we too cast away demons – the demons of gluttony, vainglory, and false belief. For many of us, defeating the passions is like moving mountains. In fulfilling these words we answer the challenge of Saint Mark and become those who are not merely hearers of the word, but doers of the word.
We would be remiss at this time if we neglected to speak a few words concerning the great benefactor to those who seek virtue, Saint John the Abbot of Sinai and author of The Ladder of Divine Ascent.
The Church lauds him as follows:
“Like that lofty ladder which Jacob was reaching to the Heavens, even so, by your godly words, you have raised a ladder that brings all the faithful unto the heights of virtue, O blessed Father John.”
St. John Climacus lived from 579 to 649 and was a monk at St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai Egypt. He arrived at the monastery as a novice at the age of 16 and was the Abbot at the time of his repose. St. John wrote many books. The most well-known is The Ladder of Divine Ascent which describes a way to draw near to God using a ladder as a word picture to describe each step. We know St. John as St. John Climacus because of this very special book. “Climacus” means “of the ladder.”
St. John receives a special commemoration on the 4th Sunday in Lent because of his tireless work in explaining how to be a faithful and repentant Christian.
Saint John offers us words that are tried and true, like gold purified in the fire:
- “The beginning of prayer is the expulsion of distractions. At the very start, begin with a brief prayer; the middle stage is concentration on what is being said or thought; and its conclusion is rapture in the Lord…
- Faith gives wings to prayer, and without it no one can fly upward to heaven. “
Each of us has a prayer rule which we fulfill daily. Sometimes we become despondent, feeling that our words are mere utterances and in fatigue we lose track of what we are saying. Saint John again advises us:
- “Pray in all simplicity. For both the tax collector and the prodigal son were reconciled to God by a single phrase.”
- And again ” Do not be over-complicated in the words you use when praying, because the simple and unadorned lisping of the children has often won the heart of their Heavenly Father.”
- You cannot learn to see just because someone tell you to do so. You require your own natural power of sight. In the same way, you cannot discover from the teachings of others the beauty of prayer. Prayer has its own teacher in God, Who ‘teaches us knowledge’ (Ps 93:10) and grants prayer to those who pray and blesses the years of the just.
- Your prayer shows your spiritual state. Indeed, theologians say that prayer is one’s mirror…
Let us try to learn Divine truth more by toil and sweat that by mere word, for at the time of our depature it is not words but deeds that will have to be shown. Step 26:36