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Homily for 3/25/12 - L4 - prayer and fasting

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  • Fr David Moser
    Mark 9:17-9:31 We have now passed the midpoint of Great Lent. Whether or not you have kept a strict fast or have been rather relaxed about how you have kept
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 25, 2012
      Mark 9:17-9:31

      We have now passed the midpoint of Great Lent. Whether or not you have
      kept a strict fast or have been rather relaxed about how you have kept
      the fast, almost everyone begins to notice some things about themselves
      at this point. It is just the nature of fasting that over time, some of
      the usual clutter of the soul begins to clear away and you begin to see
      yourself more clearly. As a result you begin to notice more about
      yourself than before. Just like standing in front of a mirror you see
      the flaws and imperfections and things you wish were just a little
      different that normally pass by unnoticed. Even just being exposed to
      the atmosphere of fasting for a prolonged period works on the soul such
      that you begin to see your own soul in a similar manner. The fast is, as
      it were, a spiritual mirror – the more effort and attention that you
      have put into the fast, the clearer it is as a mirror and the deeper you
      see into yourself, but in any case the mirror effect is still there. So
      now, entering the 5th week of the fast, that is standing in front of
      this spiritual mirror for an extended period, you begin to notice little
      things, little flaws and imperfections and things that you wish were
      different about yourself. Its normal that you should do so, and this is,
      in fact, one of the purposes of having this fasting season.

      When our Lord descended Mt Tabor after the Transfiguration, He found
      that a child had been brought to Him for healing which had been
      possessed by a spirit which caused him to be unable to speak and which
      caused seizures that “cast him into the fire and into the water as if to
      destroy him”. The disciples who had awaited Christ at the bottom of the
      mountain had been unable to heal this child and were themselves puzzled
      at the situation. Jesus, however, after questioning the father regarding
      the child’s illness, Himself rebuked the demon and freed the child from
      its grasp, healing him. Later on the disciples asked Jesus why they had
      been unable to heal the child and Jesus answered them saying, “this kind
      comes out only by prayer and fasting.”

      What did Jesus mean by “this kind” which is only affected by prayer and
      fasting? When He asked the father about His child’s illness, the father
      told Him that this illness had been on him since childhood – since the
      young one’s earliest days. These are indeed the most difficult sins to
      uproot from our lives, those that have been with us “since childhood”.
      These ingrained habits that have made a nest in our hearts have, in many
      cases, become so integrated into our personalities that we rarely see
      them because they seem “normal” to us or a just a part of our own
      personality. We may notice some of the effects of these sins and
      passions that grip us so tightly, but don’t understand why it is that we
      have this effect on people. For example, you may notice that people
      around you seem to respond to you with anger and by keeping their
      distance – but you do not realize that you have bring this about by
      presenting yourself as an angry and aggressive person. Or perhaps you
      have a hard time connecting with people, finding and establishing a
      close relationship, even with family members – but you don’t realize
      that you are pushing them away, not the reverse, because of a fear of
      intimacy. These are just two small examples of the kind of passions we
      find in ourselves “from childhood” that have a deep and strong hold upon
      us and which lead us into sin without realizing it.

      Jesus said that “this kind” is only rooted out “by prayer and fasting”.
      That is because first we have to be able to see what is there. The first
      step to solving a problem is to identify the problem and so it is with
      our own soul – the first step toward being freed from a passion is to
      identify that passion. Such “identification” requires a mirror in which
      we can see clearly. Fasting provides for us that mirror by stripping
      away some of the clutter that normally occupies our souls and thus
      clouds our vision. The more strictly that we keep the fast, the more
      time and energy we invest in the fast, the clearer that mirror becomes.
      Is it any wonder that here in the midst of Great Lent, the longest and
      strictest fasting season of the year, we begin to notice such things in
      ourselves?

      The more we see into our own soul and the more we strip away the layers
      of sin and passions that bind us and the deeper we get, the more we
      begin to perceive those passions that have held us in their grip “since
      childhood” These are the ones that are ingrained, the ones that have
      truly integrated themselves into our very personality so that they seem
      to be “natural” and “normal” and just a part of our personal “style”.
      And when we try to grasp them to begin to pull ourselves free from their
      influence, they slip away. For this reason the fast comes around again
      every year – giving us the chance to chip away at these deeply ingrained
      passions a little at a time. These habits did not get established in us
      over night and it will likewise take the investment and perseverance of
      an extended spiritual struggle to root them out.

      Fasting helps us begin the process of this struggle by clearing away the
      clutter of the soul that hides these passions. But this is not all that
      fasting does. Fasting also helps loosen these passions, making them
      easier to grasp and get a hold on them by shaking them ajar through the
      process of self denial. By exercising self denial, we exercise the will
      as though it were a muscle and so make it stronger, increasing our
      ability to deny ourselves further and thus directly address even the
      passions that have become part of our own personality and nature. In
      this way fasting helps us not only identify the problem, but becomes the
      first step in beginning to deal with it.

      The second step is the partner of fasting and that is prayer. We cannot
      ourselves grapple with these sins that are buried so deep within
      ourselves. We need help. That help is at our fingertips, we have only to
      reach out and take it. That is the help that comes to us through prayer.
      When we pray, we lift up our minds and hearts to God and enter into His
      presence. We join ourselves to God through the communion of prayer. Thus
      it is God Himself Who is our help; it is He Who helps us in our struggle
      against sin, especially these deeply rooted passions in our lives. For
      this reason Great Lent isn’t only about fasting but it is also about an
      increased diligence in prayer. There are more services and more intense
      services during Great Lent so that our corporate prayer may be
      intensified. But not only that, our private prayers, our own prayer
      rule, should also intensify during Lent. This is the time when you
      increase your discipline in daily prayers so that you don’t skip over
      them or forget them or let them get crowded out due to the business of
      the day. This is the time when you add the extra seasonal prayers, such
      as the prayer of St Ephraim with prostrations and bows, to your daily
      prayers. In prayer you enter into a kind of communion with God that
      allows Him to fill you with the strength of His grace. It is this grace
      which is your help in the struggle with these deeply buried passions.
      The more diligent and regular your prayers, the more of this grace that
      you incorporate into yourself and thus the stronger you become in your
      spiritual labors.

      Think of these deeply buried passions as weeds with deep taproots
      growing in the garden of your heart. We wish only to grow the fragrant
      blooms of the virtues, but these weeds of passions grow up. The longer
      we let them grow the deeper that taproot extends and the harder it is to
      pull out. But with fasting we expose the weed for what it is and we
      loosen the soil around the root. And then by prayer, with the grace of
      God we grip that weed and slowly but surely pull it out, leaving not
      even a little tip of the root to grow back and infect us again with
      those passions.

      It is best if we root up the passions and sins as soon as they show
      themselves (and thus many of you have heard me tell you not to allow
      anger and disagreements to pass the night in your heart, but to resolve
      them before they have a chance to put down roots and make a nest in your
      heart). There are, however, those passions and sins which have been with
      us “since childhood” and for these, fasting and prayer are required to
      pull them out. For this reason we have the extended fasting season of
      Great Lent – to allow us not only to catch a glimpse of the sins and
      passions that hide in our hearts, but also to get a clear view of them,
      shake them loose and get a good grip on them to pull them out. Prayer
      and fasting: these are the tools that our Lord uses to free us from the
      slavery of sin, these are the tools which assist us in our climb out of
      the depths of sin into the heights of the love of God. Prayer and
      fasting are tools with which we work out our salvation and which our
      Lord uses to draw us to Himself and so give to us our heart’s desire of
      living in union and communion with Him.


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