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Homily for 8/12/12 - P10 - strengthening weak faith

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  • Fr David Moser
    Matthew 17:14-23 Faith is the basis of our life. We have faith in many things – we have faith that the “laws of physics” will always apply, for example
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 12, 2012
      Matthew 17:14-23

      Faith is the basis of our life. We have faith in many things – we have
      faith that the “laws of physics” will always apply, for example if I
      drop something it will fall. We have faith that people will act in a
      certain way, we have faith that the laws by which we live will create a
      more secure society. We believe these things and we act upon them
      without even a second thought. Faith is the basis of our spiritual life
      as well. We believe certain things to be true and act upon them. First
      and foremost, every person has a belief about God, whether or not there
      is a God and how that God does or does not affect our lives. We have
      these beliefs and we act accordingly. As Christians, we have chosen to
      believe that there is a God and that God created us for His own
      purposes. We believe that God loves all of His creation and especially
      mankind as the pinnacle and crown of His creation. We believe that God
      knows and loves each person and desires not our death or destruction,
      but rather that we might come to live in union and communion with
      Himself. We believe that God provides for us the means to accomplish
      that purpose and that He helps us as we work out that purpose in our
      lives. We believe all these things to be true and we act accordingly. We
      call this connection between belief and action our “faith”. The problem
      for us is that there is sometimes a disconnect between what we say we
      believe and what we do. I don’t always act as though there is a God Who
      knows and loves me personally and provides for me – in other words my
      faith, that connection between belief and action, is sometimes weak.
      Because of my weak faith I don’t always realize the presence of God in
      my life and I become anxious and worried or sad and depressed or angry
      and demanding. Only by strengthening my faith – by increasing the link
      between belief and action – will I find peace and joy.

      Our Lord Jesus Christ looked out at His disciples and those who followed
      Him and saw this same weak faith. They said they believed, they wanted
      to believe – but their actions did not match up to their beliefs. In
      this case a demon possessed child had been brought to them, but they
      were unable to heal him. Seeing this weak faith, Jesus cried out, “O
      faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How
      long shall I suffer you?” In the Gospel of Mark, this same event is
      recorded and the evangelist recalls that Jesus said to the father, “If
      thou canst believe, all things are possible.” and the prayer of the
      child’s father, “Lord I believe, help Thou mine unbelief.” In our Lord’s
      words to His disciples, He answers the father’s question. When His
      disciples came to him later He said to them, “If ye have faith as a
      grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to
      yonder place; and it shall removed; and nothing shall be impossible to
      you.” Then as if to explain the weakness of their faith, He tells them
      why they were unable to expel the demon from the child saying, “This
      kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.”

      In this portion of the Gospel we see the weakness of our faith – and we
      are told how to strengthen our faith. How do we strengthen our faith?
      The twin actions of prayer and fasting are the key. Notice first that
      these things are always brought together, prayer and fasting are an
      inseparable pair. In order to experience the effects of either prayer or
      fasting, they must always be brought together. Prayer, by itself, or
      fasting, by itself, only touches a part of our life and so is only
      partly effective. In order to truly grow strong and progress in our
      spiritual lives, we have to do both things.

      Prayer, at its most basic, is the state of being in communion with God.
      We use words to help shape our prayer and to bring our hearts into the
      place where it can begin to sense the presence of God, but the words of
      the prayer are not the essence of the prayer. Prayer is an internal
      spiritual labor, bringing our whole being before the throne of God and
      there communing with Him. Because truth is not the product of our reason
      or invention, but rather it is revealed, the direct result of our
      interaction with the source of truth, God Himself, by prayer we acquire
      that truth. In prayer we interact with God – we commune with Him – and
      we see all that which is true. It is this truth that forms the basis of
      our belief. If we have a false belief, even if we are consistent in our
      actions, then that belief is of no value for we are going in the wrong
      direction. In order to have an effective spiritual life, we must first
      have a true belief – we have to know where we are going and how to get
      there. If we have a false faith then we have a false goal and a path
      that leads nowhere. Prayer then is necessary for our faith for it sets a
      correct and true path for us, leading to the source of all Truth, to God

      But it is not enough to know where you are going and how to get there.
      Having a correct belief is useless if you do not act on it. Fasting is
      an external activity – it is action that is based on belief. Fasting is
      the primary exercise of self denial – breaking us off from the false
      urges and desires of our fallen nature so that we might be able to
      follow instead the true path that our belief has shown to us. Fasting is
      more than just abstaining from certain foods and certain times – rather
      it is cutting off our natural fallen passions and desires and weakening
      their hold on us. Therefore when we fast, we do not only fast from
      certain foods, but we also cut off and weaken our other desires,
      abstaining from entertainments, pleasures and amusements. When we fast
      strictly we cut off everything (not just food) that interferes with
      following the path to God laid out by our belief.

      If you wish then to strengthen your faith, that connection between
      belief and action, there is a two pronged prescription given to you by
      our Lord: prayer and fasting. Our spiritual discipline or “rule” should
      consist of these two things held in balance with each other. The
      tradition of the Church gives us guidance in how to do that. This
      tradition is not something assembled by chance but is the best course of
      action worked out by the lives and experiences of the saints. Your rule
      of prayer, to pray every day for a set period both in the morning and in
      the evening, is the basis of how we pray. Of course the Apostle tells us
      that we should pray without ceasing, however, as beginners we are not
      yet able to fully fulfill that expectation. As a beginning make sure
      that you pray every morning and every evening. Don’t wait until its
      convenient in the morning or for the last moment of wakefulness at night
      but rather set a time – a specific and regular time like an appointment.
      At the appointed time, always come to your place of prayer and begin to
      use the rule of prayer that is given to you. That rule will vary
      according to your ability and strength, however, for most of us the
      collection of morning and evening prayers in the prayerbook is
      attainable. Your spiritual father will give you a rule of prayer that is
      within your strength and increase or decrease it as your strength waxes
      and wanes.

      Likewise fasting has a regular routine. On Wednesday’s and Friday’s
      throughout the year (with a few notable exceptions) we fast. In addition
      to this there are four major fasting seasons thoughout the year to give
      us a prolonged workout. Of these four seasons, there are two that are of
      moderate intensity – the Nativity fast and the Apostle’s fast – and two
      that are very intense and strict – Great Lent and the Dormition fasts.
      On these fasting days, we cut off our desires and passions to a certain
      degree – refraining from certain foods or from various entertainments
      and pleasures as is appropriate to the day and the strictness of the
      fast. Like the prayer rule, the regular routine of fasts is within the
      strength of almost everyone, however, there are provisions for the fast
      to be relaxed or even strengthened according to the needs of the
      individual (most obvious are the relaxation of the fast for small
      children or for those who are ill). Still we should strive to keep the
      fast as best as we can.

      When we have these two elements – prayer and fasting – then we will be
      able to strengthen our faith. When we cry out with the voice of the
      distraught father of the Gospel, “Lord I believe, help thou mine
      unbelief!” He answers our prayer by giving to us that help – prayer and
      fasting. Prayer is the inner work of standing before the presence of God
      in communion with Him and fasting is the external work of modifying our
      actions and behavior to conform with the belief that results from our
      prayer. Prayer without fasting is nothing but theory and fasting without
      prayer is nothing but the empty exercise that goes nowhere. We must have
      both together, prayer and fasting, so that with their help we might
      fulfill the purpose for which we were created, to live in union and
      communion with God in His eternal Kingdom.

      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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