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442Homily for 4/3/11 - L4 - The Battle Increases

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  • Fr David Moser
    Apr 3, 2011
      Mark 9:17-31

      We were reminded last week of the Cross, the symbol of Christ’s victory
      over sin, death and the devil. By the Cross we were encouraged to
      continue our struggles in the sure faith that our victory is not
      accomplished by our own hand but is accomplished by the God/man Jesus
      Christ Himself on our behalf. We know and are confident that He is all
      powerful and that He prevails over every temptation. In this confidence
      our faith is confirmed and strengthened and we return to the arena to
      finish the good fight and work out our salvation.

      This week, however, we see that even though our Lord is all powerful and
      prevails even over death, that the struggle remains with us and that it
      is far from over. In the Gospel, a man possessed by a demon is brought,
      by his father, to the disciples of Jesus Christ (Who at that time had
      retired to the heights of the mountain to pray and His divinity was
      revealed as He was transfigured before Peter, James and John). The
      disciples were unable, however, to cast out this demon. As Jesus
      descended the mountain, he encountered this scene and asked what had
      occurred. When the possessed man was brought to Jesus, the demon began
      to seize the man violently, throwing him to the ground where he lay
      “wallowing and foaming at the mouth”.

      It would seem from this that the presence of Christ did not alleviate
      the suffering, but perhaps even brought it to a greater pitch. We
      experience this in our lives as we struggle with our own temptations and
      passions. As we draw nearer to Jesus Christ, it seems as though the
      temptations increase in their intensity and violence, our sufferings and
      struggles take on a new energy, our life seems to get worse instead of
      better. This is the nature of the spiritual warfare in which we are
      engaged. Our enemy, that is our fallen nature and the demons which
      nurture it, fights with greater energy when threatened and seeks to
      convince us to flee from Christ rather than draw nearer to Him. All
      kinds of barriers arise, the fast becomes an intolerable burden, we
      forget (or perhaps we neglect) to pray, the temptations seem to pound
      unceasingly at the doors of our heart and mind.

      Jesus asked the father, who brought his son, about this affliction and
      the father answered saying that this affliction had been within him
      since his childhood, and that the demon sought constantly to destroy the
      youth. Is this not true of our own passions, of our own temptations, of
      our own sins. They have indeed been with us from our youth and they seek
      to destroy our soul, pulling us away from Christ. The greatest
      temptations are those that reach all the way back to our childhood and
      are embedded deep in our personalities. These are the ones that we seem
      to struggle with over and over in a multitude of disguises.

      The father then begged Jesus, “If you can do anything … help us” This
      comment goes to the root of the problem here: why the demon was so
      firmly entrenched in the man and why the disciples were unable to cast
      it out on their own. The statement “if you can do anything…” belies the
      underlying lack of faith that this man had in the power of Christ. And
      this lack of faith was not only his, but as we shall see later also that
      of the disciples. This was the basis of Jesus’ first reaction saying “O
      faithless generation … how long shall I suffer you?” He knew even from
      the beginning that it was because of the weakness of faith that this man
      – indeed that we all – suffer so terribly. Only now was that lack of
      faith becoming apparent. Having seen his own faithlessness, the father’s
      faith began to turn around and he began to have hope saying, “if you can
      … help us” Jesus, seeing this glimmer of hope, this faltering step
      towards faith replies, “If you can believe, all things are possible …”
      The father here replies with a prayer that should constantly be on all
      our lips, “Lord I believe, help Thou my unbelief”

      Jesus does not look for us to come to Him with a perfect and fully
      developed faith. He only needs to see the beginning of faith, even only
      the desire for faith. Once we turn to Him, then He receives us, as doubt
      filled and weak as we are and He accepts whatever we give Him and fills
      us with His perfection and power. Here is our salvation: not in our own
      strength, not even in our own faith, but in simply turning to Christ and
      placing what little faith and hope we have in Him.

      Jesus then turned again to the suffering youth and commanded that the
      demon come out of him. At this the spirit cried out, tore at him again
      and came out. The youth lay there upon the ground as one who was dead.
      See again here the tremendous warfare that we all face when we confront
      these sins, passions and demons that have a deep and powerful hold on
      us. They do not let go easily, they battle even to the last second and
      when they do finally flee, they leave us as dead. As we truly struggle
      with sin throughout Lent, we can expect this increased warfare. Things
      will not “get better and better” – more likely they will continue to
      scream and tear at us until the last moment until we are completely
      exhausted and broken and only then they leave us as though we are dead.
      This is the reality of the spiritual warfare that we face for we are
      truly engaged in a life and death battle – the battle for the life and
      death of our soul.

      And then Jesus reached out to the youth and took him by the hand and
      raised him up. See how this simple action fills us with hope and joy.
      This youth who had struggled his entire life with this demon and
      suffered sorely – even to the point where he fell as though dead – was
      taken by Jesus Christ who lifted him up from the depths to which he had
      fallen. No matter how great our sin, no matter how long and intense our
      struggle, no matter how near to death we might seem – Jesus Christ
      reaches out to us and taking our hand, fills us with life and raises us
      up. Do not lose faith, do not give up, do not turn away from the battle
      at the moment of our victory. As we sing in the Great Compline – “God is
      with us – hear all nations and be vanquished for God is with us!”. It is
      unfortunate that as a small parish we don’t have the resources to sing
      this service every day during Lent as is done in the Cathedral and
      monasteries because this one hymn is so encouraging and helpful in our
      struggle. To hear it daily is a great consolation and encouragement.

      Later on, the disciples asked Jesus why they had not been able to cast
      out this demon and Jesus said to them, “this kind does not come out
      except by prayer and fasting”. Here He reminds them and us of the
      necessity of these two great weapons. Prayer, our communion and union
      with God, links us to the One who is all powerful and the object of our
      faith while fasting, the ascetic exercise of self denial, purges from
      the heart all that distracts us from that communion and union with God.
      How important to our faith is prayer and fasting. We have passed the
      halfway point of this fast and we now race toward the victory of the
      Resurrection. But the path before us is still difficult and the evil
      one, having been challenged will not cede the battle easily. But we know
      now that even when the struggle seems to get more intense, when our hope
      and faith are strained to the breaking point that we need only to hold
      on and cry out to our Lord Jesus Christ, “Lord I believe, help Thou my
      unbelief!” And He will come to us and drive the enemy from us and will
      take us by the hand and raise us up filling us with His life and His
      strength. He is our salvation – we have only to hope, with unwavering
      faith, in Him.

      Archpriest David Moser
      St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)
      Homilies: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/propoved/
      Website: http://stseraphimboise.org