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Homily for 4/2/08 - Lent 4 - prayer and fasting

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  • Protopriest David Moser
    Mark 9:17-31 How often do we ourselves echo the cry of this father - Lord I believe, help my unbelief We are all here in the Church because to some extent
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 4, 2006
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      Mark 9:17-31

      How often do we ourselves echo the cry of this father - "Lord I
      believe, help my unbelief" We are all here in the Church because to
      some extent we "believe" but without fail that belief seems to be
      tempered with unbelief. Most of us "believe" with our minds but that
      belief hasn't sunk to the heart. We believe with our mind that there
      is a God and that He cares about us. We understand the things about
      God that we are taught in the Church and we agree with them - this
      belief system makes sense to us. Most of us believe on this level but
      our belief stays only on this level. That intellectual belief stays
      in the head and doesn't penetrate to the heart. This kind of belief
      is fed by much reading, by learning about God, about the spiritual
      life. We read the lives of saints and books about theology and
      spiritual things. We fill our minds with Orthodox concepts and ideas
      and then we let our reason chew on those Orthodox ideas. We see how
      it all fits together and are delighted at the beauty and consistency
      of the faith. In this way we "believe"; we have faith

      But faith is much more than that. Faith is something that involves
      the whole being, not the mind alone. Faith transforms the will and
      permeates the heart. Faith brings about a burning love of God that is
      more intense, more irresistible than even the most sincere earthly
      infatuation. From the fountains of faith well up within us the tears
      of repentance that flow so freely that the faces of the saints at
      times appear stained and the ground in front of their feet is wet.
      True faith produces a love of God so strong that even the idea of
      yielding to temptation and thus by sin causing the slightest
      separation from Him is repugnant. This is the kind of faith that
      moves mountains, heals the sick and gives sight to the blind. Why is
      it that we do not have this kind of faith? And so we cry out with the
      father of the sick child, "Lord I believe, help my unbelief"

      Our Lord Jesus Christ in His mercy sees not just our outward
      appearance, not just the trappings of our unbelief, but He also sees
      into our hearts and there sees the seed of faith - even though it
      might be as small as a mustard seed - and finding even that small seed
      of faith, the desire to believe, He will begin to work in us to
      perfect our faith. Thus He healed the sick child, and when the
      apostles asked why they themselves were unable to do so, He instructed
      them saying, "it is because of your own unbelief, your own lack of
      faith." Then He gave them the key to increasing their faith, "This
      kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting." Faith is
      perfected not by learning more about the Church, not by reading the
      life of another saint no matter how inspiring, not by working through
      difficult texts on the spiritual life - faith is perfected by putting
      it into practice. The first two exercises, the first two steps on
      this spiritual ladder are: prayer and fasting.

      Prayer and fasting are the two indispensable activities of every
      Christian. First there is prayer. Prayer is, in its essence,
      communion with God. Every time we go to pray, we should work to
      involve the whole being, our mind, our feelings, our will, our body.
      Each day it is necessary to set aside a bit of time in which to pray;
      a regular time, the same time each day, the same length of time each
      day - much as one sets aside time for eating a meal or watching
      television or going to work. This time should be an inviolable
      appointment, nothing else should be allowed to intrude on it. When
      you come to pray at this time, it is important not to just "jump into"
      prayer, but prepare yourself. Calm and quiet your mind, focus on the
      task at hand, become aware that you are standing in the presence of
      the All Good, All Powerful, All Loving God and that you are about to
      speak with Him. Then when you do begin to pray, push aside every
      distracting thought, no matter how pious or holy it might seem -
      nothing is more important than communion with your Beloved. Pray for
      a set period of time, 10 min, 20 min, half an hour, whatever is best
      for you. Even a short time is good if that is all that is possible -
      as you progress in prayer, as you become more adept at it, you will be
      able to prolong the time. When you are finished, do not just rush off
      to some other work or distraction, but let yourself bask for a moment
      in the afterglow of having been with God, let the experience of your
      prayer "sink in" before you return to the world. In this way you will
      begin to pray not just at this time, but your prayer will go with you
      every moment of your day.

      The other indispensable exercise is fasting. Fasting is not just to
      watch what you eat on Wednesday's and Fridays and during the lenten
      seasons - fasting encompasses all of the ascetic exercises of our
      Orthodox life. Certainly if we can keep the food fast at the
      appropriate times, that is a good start. Living in the culture of
      plenty here in the US, most of us could last even a month with no food
      at all (and in fact might come out all the healthier for it), so for a
      healthy adult, there is no reason not to fast. Even those who for
      health reasons are unable to keep the "fasting rules" can abstain from
      certain foods, or even from an excess of food. But the fast is more
      than just food. We fast every time we practice self denial, every
      time we set aside our own desire in order to do the will of someone
      else. Ideally this other person is God Himself, but He gives us so
      many others in this life towards whom we can practice self denial. We
      deny ourselves to obey parents, we deny ourselves to please a spouse,
      we deny ourselves for our children, we deny ourselves in order to work
      at a job, we deny ourselves when we are with friends, and even
      sometimes we deny ourselves to accommodate strangers. Fasting is all
      of this. One cannot be an Orthodox Christian, one cannot have true
      faith, without fasting.

      We believe - but we also suffer from unbelief. We have faith, but
      that faith is imperfect, impure, and immature. In order for our faith
      to go from the head to the heart, in order for our faith to grow in us
      and permeate every aspect of our being we must put it into practice.
      The first and most important means by which we do this is by prayer
      and fasting. These are the keys, these are the indispensable elements
      to the spiritual life. The more you prayer, the more you fast, the
      more your faith will grow in you and the more it will transform you
      into the image and likeness of God.
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