- A Sermon of Metropolitan Moses for the Sunday of St John Climacus 2009 In today’s gospel we hear of a man publicly entreating our Savior to deliver his sonMessage 1 of 1 , Mar 31 1:23 PMView Source
A Sermon of Metropolitan Moses for the Sunday of St John Climacus 2009
In today’s gospel we hear of a man publicly entreating our Savior to deliver his son from demonic possession, adding that His disciples failed to help him. Our Savior replied to him with a rebuke, “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I endure you?” --Thus pointing out the importance of faith on our part in receiving healing or the grace of God.
When the man brought his son forward and once again asked for help, our Savior told him that “all things are possible to him that believes.” Then the desperate father responded from the depths of his heart with the words, “I believe Lord, help Thou mine unbelief.” The urgency of his predicament forced this man to confront his own weak faith and he corrected himself and his petition unto the Lord, asking first that his faith might be increased. Our Merciful Savior responded with mercy and healed the man’s son.
Would that all of mankind would learn from this man! --I believe Lord, help Thou mine unbelief! Temptations beset me, daily life overwhelms me, it seems that Satan himself crowds in upon my life. I believe Lord, but I also recognize that I falter, help Thou mine unbelief.
We are in the midst of Great Lent and we see the works of God. There is only one answer for healing in our lives. There is only one Person that can deliver us from sin and death, that is the God-Man Christ and we attract the grace of God through honest self-examination and prayer. If we seek God with honest sincerity and entreat Him, He will add unto us the gift of faith, and all things become possible. I believe Lord, help Thou mine unbelief, my lack of love, my lack of patience, my lack of humility. It is only through prayer that we make a beginning and progress in the spiritual life. Deep faith is the fruit of prayer and experience and time.
Thus, we are given a lesson in spiritual wrestling on this Fourth Sunday of Great Lent. Yet, we are given another lesson in today’s gospel, that is, “This kind can come forth by nothing, save by prayer and fasting.” Prayer and fasting are therapies to help us loose the bonds of Satan. Prayer and fasting have always been an essential part of the Christian way of life, even from the very beginning.
Our Christ came as a Physician of souls and He has given us a prescription of a certain type of diet and exercise so that we might have spiritual health and freedom from sin. The Christian Church has always had its spiritual athletes that have shone forth as radiant examples. These spiritual athletes formed a systematic way of life that we know as monasticism. Saint John Climacus, who we celebrate today, was one of the most important monks of the first thousand years of the Church. He was purified from pride by 19 years in obedience and then spent 40 years in spiritual ascents in solitude before he was made abbot of the Holy Mount Sinai, when he reached his 75th year. He wrote what is known as “The Ladder of Divine Ascent” as a response to an abbot friend of his who was having problems with an insurrection in his monastery. This venerable tome praises the virtues of obedience and offers advice on the virtues and many insights regarding the workings of the passions. Monasteries throughout the world read his, “Ladder of Divine Ascent” during the days of Great Lent.
Monasticism has always been held in high esteem in the Orthodox Church. Saint John Comments:Angels are a light for monks, and the monastic life is a light for all men. Therefore let monks strive to become a good example in everything, giving no occasion for stumbling in anything (2Cor. 6:3) in all their works and words. For if the light becomes darkness, how much darker will be that darkness, that is, those living in the world. 26:31Thus, a layperson who seeks to find inspiration for their own endeavors in spiritual exercises from monastics needs to use spiritual discretion. Monastics can be examples for all in fasting and prayer, but, since they are men, they are subject to falling into spiritual error from time to time. Thus, the Christian faith is not personality based, but rather we base our faith on Apostolic tradition. The only personality in the Church is the Person of the God-Man Christ. Any fixation on a personality in the Church to the confusion of authentic ecclesiology or that overturns Church order is a distortion of the Body of the Person of the God-Man Christ. I write this because, there is universal desire to find a holy person in our lives. In his book, “The Brothers Karamazov,” Fyodore Dostoeysky expressed how strong this desire is for the members of the Church through the sentiments of one of his characters, Alyosha:
… for the humble soul of the simple Russian, worn out by toil and grief, and, above all, by everlasting injustice and everlasting sin, his own and the world’s, there is no stronger need and consolation than to find some holy thing or person, to fall down before him and venerate him: “Though with us there is sin, unrighteousness, and temptation, still, all the same, there is on earth, in such and such a place, somewhere, someone holy and exalted; he has the truth; he knows the truth; so the truth does not die on earth, and therefore some day it will come to us and will reign over all the earth, as has been promised.”
From The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodore Dostoevsky, North Point Press 1990, San Francisco, Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, page 30.
There is a thirst among believers to find a spiritual man who one can trust to be a haven of holiness and truth. Yet, even in seeking such a man, especially during these last times, we must be vigilant. Our Savior admonished us to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves, that is to be vigilant enough to recognize error and evil while still maintaining innocence in one’s heart. As Christians we need to find a way to have love and genuine compassion towards all men, but also to discern error and reject it. There is no man that is without sin, save our Christ Himself and in this age of error and confusion many seemingly spiritual men have been tripped up.
For example, as recently as back in 1991, there was an incident where a certain archimandrite, purported to be a God inspired elder, declared that he had a dream wherein the Theotokos and his reposed elder appeared to him and told him to break communion with the Patriarchate of Constantinople and join a Russian Church. This move to a different Church was significant because the Patriarchate of Constantinople has been the source and fountainhead of the heresy of Ecumenism and, at that time, the Russian Church that he joined was not officially in communion with any of the Ecumenist New Calendar Churches. Unfortunately, in a strange turn of events, just a few months later this same elder claimed that he had another dream wherein the Theotokos and his elder told him to return to communion with the Patriarchate of Constantinople. This elder now says that he rejects Ecumenism, but it is not time yet to break communion with the bishops that espouse this heresy and if and when things are bad enough, he will break communion with them.
The question any reasonable person must ask is, if he could not remain steadfast in his first decision to brake communion with the heresy, how can one trust that he will break with it in the future?
The point that must be made is that, as the rational flock of the Church of Christ we are called upon to use our common sense. Our guide is Holy Tradition and the Holy Canons. If an elder or angel from heaven come to teach us something contrary to Holy Tradition regarding doctrine or morality we are to separate ourselves from him. (Gal 1:3-10) Furthermore, the Holy Fathers have taught us that we should not put our trust in dreams.
There is an account of an elder who spent many years in ascetism on Mount Sinai who was deceived by the evil one through dreams,
“The Sabaite Antiochus… tells as a warning against trust in dreams the story of a solitary on Sinai of many years’ standing, who had a series of dreams that came true, and then one that showed him the people of the martyrs and apostles and all the Christians dark and filled with shame, while Moses, the prophets, and the Jews were enveloped in light, living in joy and gladness. He left the Holy Mountain, came to the Jewish settlements at Noara and Livias, on the two sides of the Jordan Valley (Noara was only three or four miles from Choziba), was circumcised, married a wife, and conducted open propaganda on behalf of the Jews against the Christians…”
“The Desert A City” by Derwas J. Chitty, St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, N.Y., 1999, P 154, Footnote 92: Antiochus, Pandect 84 (P.G. 89, 1689D-1692B).
Saint John Climacus wrote concerning dreams, “The demons of vainglory prophesy in dreams. Being unscrupulous, they guess the future and foretell it to us. When these visions come true, we are amazed; and we re elated with the thought that we are already near to the gift of foreknowledge. A demon is often a prophet to those who believe him, gut he is always a liar to those who despise him. Being a spirit, he sees what is happening in this lower air, and noticing that someone is dying, he foretells it through dreams to the more light-minded. But demons know nothing about the future from foreknowledge. For if they did, then the fortunetellers would also be able to foretell our death…He who believes in dreams is completely inexperienced. But he who distrusts all dreams is a wise man…” (Ladder of Divine Ascent 3:28, 3:29)
We live in an age of spiritual error and falsehood wherein the spirit of the Anti-Christ has entered into society in general and seeks to enter into local Churches of the Orthodox Christians. The spirit of anti-Christ is anything that would exalt itself above Christ or seek to replace Christ. Our Savior warned us that in the last days there would be false christs, that is, personality cults. Personality cults that form within the Church are recognized by their abandonment of the Traditional teaching of the Church regarding doctrine, ecclesiology, Christian ethics and morality. Unfortunately, a phony rarified “spirituality” coupled with prideful ambition is enough to deceive trusting individuals. A basic understanding of authentic Church order rooted in common sense is enough to deliver a believer from such deception.
We are in the last days. The wise Christian will pay heed to the words of our Savior, “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, not even the Angels which are in Heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is. For the Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the gate-keeper to watch. Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at evening, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning: Lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping And what I say unto you I say unto all, Be ye watchful. (Luke 13:32-37)One of the spiritual exercises of monastics is called nipsis or watchfulness. This is a state wherein one guards the heart through repeating the Jesus Prayer while keeping a sober watch with the mind for any thought that would be a cause of distraction or sin. The basic principle is that one does not readily accept all of the thoughts that one encounters. During this era of confusion anyone who desires to keep his Christian faith must exercise careful watchfulness in order to recognize the many forms of spiritual error and evil that exist in our day.
Christianity is not a cult of personality. Christians are required to be the rational flock. Our safeguard is the two thousand year deposit of Faith that has been preserved unbroken from Apostolic times and made manifest through the writings of the Holy Fathers and the Canons of the Church. May this be your guide and may our Christ deliver you from all the various forms of spiritual deception and preserve your hearts in purity.