All eyes on Christ.

Homily 493 – 4th GL
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
April 3, 2022
Epistle: (314) Hebrews 6:13-20 and (229) Ephesians 5:9-19
Gospel: (40) Mark 9:17-31 and (10) Matthew 4:25-5:12
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

Lent is hard. Denying ourselves is hard. Conceptionally it is easy – just deny yourself. But those desires, those wants, those drives – those are difficult to deny.

Sacrifice is sometimes painful. Maybe it isn’t difficult for all. This year has been particularly difficult for me. A lot of the past two years have caught up with me finally, I think.

Frustration seems to be the most common ailment. Frustration of a world that makes Christianity hard, and frustration that I don’t progress as I believe I should.

That must be similar to what the disciples of the Lord felt when they were not able to heal the man’s son. The frustration similar to the man himself, who cried “I believe! Help my unbelief!”

How often do we want to cry out to God in that way. We want to believe – we must believe. Yet, we need God’s help to believe.

Jesus heals the son – but the disciples want to know why. Jesus tells them two things. The first: This type only happens with prayer and fasting.

So, OK, that is what we are doing now. Yet, we are still unable – and still frustrated as a result. Part of the frustration is that we don’t want to believe we are doing anything wrong – we are following the formula, yet it doesn’t seem to be effective.

That’s frustrating. But are we following the formula? Are we really following the formula?

Because in the passage, Jesus goes on to teach the disciples. This is the second thing Jesus tells them. The message is interesting, and not a little mysterious. In some ways, it doesn’t seem to fit with the passage we’ve just read, yet, it is part of it.

Jesus tells them “The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and when he is killed, he will rise again on the third day.”

The formula is indeed prayer and fasting – self-denial. But the extent of the self-denial is to voluntarily surrender our lives, as Christ surrendered His life, and to ascend our Cross.

And when we follow Christ, we will also rise again on the third day.

The cross becomes our Ladder. St. John of the Ladder, whom we remember today, describes this process for us. We do well to read his path, but beware because it isn’t for the faint-hearted.

Yet, in the end, we are one with Christ. We have ascended our cross and we die with Christ and we are raised to life with Christ.

Like the Alleluia verse said: “They that are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God.”

To be planted in the house of the Lord – to be, in my view, buried. Whether in the body or after departing the body. Maybe both.

To be dead to our self, and raised to Christ. The message of God is clear throughout the New Testament. We fight and we struggle to kill not our body, but our ego – our self, and our sense of self.

Let me say that again – we don’t kill our bodies. We kill our ego. We kill our sense of self. Until none of it exists. Not a trace.

If you look at the icon of the Ladder of Divine Ascent, you see people climbing the ladder, laypeople, priests, bishops – and some are being tempted away by the demons. They are deceived, and as the Apostle, take their eyes off of Christ.

That, dear brothers and sisters, is my confession to you. My frustration comes from taking my eyes off of Christ and looking around me at the world. Sickness, war, human suffering, division.

If we see things as we should – as they truly are – we look at Christ and view these things from His eyes. We are still sad, and we do what we can to help, but we keep our eyes completely focused on Him, and we find hope. We know that the demons that torment us are really only nuisances.

Through Christ, we see things as they really are.

So. How do we accomplish this?

First, we have to decide to do it. We have to decide to follow Christ. We can, like most of the Apostles and Disciples see that Christ is not just an option, but is the Only Way – the Only Path – and all other paths lead to places and happenings we don’t want to go.

The other paths promise we will achieve everything we dream of – but that isn’t Truth. That isn’t Christ. And those emotions and feelings are temporary and fleeting.

We have to spend some time really thinking about our desires. Do we want to follow Christ? Particularly knowing that it often won’t feel good to do so.

Once we have made that determination, we need to revisit it often. Maybe weekly, maybe daily, especially when we prepare for confession, the first consideration is this: Is Christ my first priority and my only vision?

We will have other things to think about, but even in the midst of that, is Christ my focus? And if Christ is not our focus, to return our focus, our gaze, our eyes, ears, and heart, to Him.

That is being poor in spirit. That is mourning. That is meekness. That is hungering and thirsting after righteousness.

That is climbing the ladder. And we continue, making our next step, eyes on Christ.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.