Never turn back.
Homily 320 – 10th after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
August 5, 2018
Epistle – (131) 1 Corinthians 4:9-16
Gospel – (72) Matthew 17:14-23
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
Our Lord tells us that “this kind of spirit does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” It seems a bit odd that he says this immediately after saying “if you have faith as small as a grain of mustard, you can move mountains, and nothing will be impossible.”
That sounds at first as a contradictory statement. Anything is possible – except this, which requires more than faith, but prayer and fasting.
Now maybe that isn’t the right construction. Perhaps prayer, fasting, and faith are more closely integrated than we first imagine.
They aren’t three distinct things. Prayer, fasting, and faith are inter-related.
Prayer and fasting teach us that we cannot trust ourselves. They teach us that the impulses and desires that come from within us should not be satisfied, because the satisfaction of them is an illusion.
Faith, on the other hand, is the idea of who we can trust – who we should trust.
But faith cannot manifest itself when we are trusting and responsive only to our selves, our impulses and desires.
Those responses indicate we don’t trust anything but ourselves.
If we abandon our own desires and impulses – then we have the faith necessary to move mountains.
Faith is more than simply believing something strongly. Even more than making commitments and taking actions.
Some say that faith is stepping into the abyss with the confidence that you won’t die.
But where is that confidence directed?
The only – only – way that this confidence is directed at Christ is by our abandonment of ourselves, our interests, our desires.
Otherwise, we are stepping in faith that our own determination about God is correct. It becomes not about God – but about us.
And we can imagine where that likely leads.
Christ calls the generation “faithless” and “perverse”. The word translated “perverse” is the Greek word (die-stram-men-E) διεστραμμενη meaning “having been through, turned”.
Having been through – having completed like a trial, or a tunnel, having emerged – then turned. Went back. Re-turned.
Having been baptized into Christ, and put on Christ, taking Him off again and reverting to our self-trusting sinful state.
It isn’t a word to be taken lightly. This word, along with “hypocrite”, are perhaps the strongest words Christ uses to describe anyone.
To avoid that outcome, we need to abandon ourselves. Deny ourselves. Quit pandering to ourselves.
And yes – it is hard. It is the hardest thing you will ever try to do in your life. But –
Where it leads is simply amazing. Astonishing. Indescribable.
Abba Lot went to Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands toward heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”
It is how the martyrs can approach their martyrdom – in many cases, torturous and horrific – with utter joy and laughter, even.
St. Paisios of Athos writes about St. Gideon, martyred in 1818.
To his executioners he said, “Take my hand, take my leg, take my nose.” In short, take everything! Incredible! But for a man to reach that point, he must not love himself, he must love God. A mother runs into a fire to save her child. She doesn’t feel any pain, because her love is stronger than the burning of the of the fire. Her love for her child masks the pain. So you can imagine how much more the love for Christ can mask the pain of martyrdom.
He goes on:
For the Saint approaching martyrdom, the love for Christ is stronger than the pain; it neutralizes it. The Martyrs felt the executioner’s sword to be sweeter than the bow of a violin. Martyrdom becomes a festival; fire refreshes better than a bath. Divine love takes hold of the heart, takes hold of the mind, and man goes “mad.” He does not feel the pain of anything else, because his mind is on Christ; and his heart is overflowing with joy.
He concludes: “If one does not start sacrificing something now, like giving up some desire or selfishness, how will he ever be able to sacrifice his life?”
Brothers and sisters – our life is only complete with self-denial. As counter-intuitive as it sounds – the pathway to bliss is through our self-sacrifice.
And once we go through – you will not desire to turn.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!