Sermon of His Reverence, Archimandrite Parthenius, on the seventh Sunday after Pentecost, delivered in the monastery Refectory.
Today, my dear ones, we have heard from the Gospel as to how God came to do good to humankind. In today’s liturgical reading, Saint Matthew, the Apostle and Evangelist, was telling us how Christ healed two blind people, as well as a mute and possessed man. (Matthew 9,27-35).
So, God came to Earth to heal the sick humankind. He came to visit His creation, to heal it from its illnesses, but above all, from the most dangerous disease – the lack of faith, the doubt of man in God. Indeed, doubt marked the beginning of the tragic history in the garden of Eden, when the first created humans did not believe in God’s word. God had given to them only one commandment: not to eat from the forbidden fruit, because the very moment they taste the fruit, they will die. (Genesis 2,17) Unfortunately, they did not accept with trust this parental word of God. The ones who were created for immortal life and for eternal joy and pleasure, have now fallen into decay and death and tasted the bitter fruit of their disobedience.
Hence, when the Savior came to Earth, He found humanity in a very terrible and extremely miserable state. He found people blind, though he created us with eyes. He found deaf, though He gave us all ears and hearing. He saw people paralyzed, crippled, sick, demonized, though, according to the first pages of the Bible, he created man as a king of all creation, as the authority over the first-created beauty. But by creating him perfect, God also gave him free will, as a principle of love. Man had to choose whether he would love God and trust in Him as to his Creator and Father or turn into an idol of himself. He unfortunately chose the second. Therefore, when Christ came, the first He started seeking for was faith, the faith that was lost from Adam to this day.
Notice what he says to the blind, when they cry out to Him: Thou Son of David, have mercy on us! He asked: Believe ye that I am able to do this? Do you believe it? He tested their faith. They said to Him, “Yea, Lord!” This event shows us how much human cooperation with God is needed for a miracle, for something good to happen. If these blind people did not believe, Christ would not have been guilty of remaining unhealed. Remember that when He was in His own city, Nazareth, His co-habitants did not want to believe Him. And what does the Evangelist say: And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief (Matthew 13.58). Because of their unbelief. And the blind of today’s reading, though they did not see the miracles with their own eyes, still the testimony of the others was enough for them to believe in Jesus’ miraculous power. They addressed Him with the most honorable name in ancient Israel – Thou Son of David. They have confessed, perhaps not so consciously, but rather by the inspiration of their faith, His royal and Messianic dignity. After testing their faith, he touched their eyes and said: According to your faith be unto you, and their eyes were opened. His Divine power, in cooperation with their faith, performed a miracle. Then, the next miracle he performs is when some others, third parties, bring before him a man who was dumb and possessed. The Lord heals him too, but now according to the faith of those who brought him, because the mute and the possessed could not speak by himself to the Lord and ask for healing. However, He used the faith of those who brought the man to Him and once again performed a miracle. We see something similar in the case of the paralyzed, whom his friends or relatives had brought through the roof of the house where Christ was, incapable to access Him in any other way.
Seeing their faith, the Lord said to the paralyzed: Son, thy sins be forgiven thee. (Mark 2,5). Or, let us recall the overwhelming faith of the Roman centurion whose servant was dying: Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed (Matthew 8.8). Just say one word. What a wonderful faith! The Lord, therefore, also takes into account the faith of the fellowmen in order to do some goodness. As, for example, we pray for the souls of our deceased. Those who have taken off their body and moved to the other side, can no longer do good deeds, so therefore their relatives, friends, the Church in general, pray with faith for them and the Lord helps their souls.
Faith is essential. It is the beginning of man’s transformation. A door through which God enters the heart of man. We have seen that through the faith of men, the Lord makes miracles. He gave sight to the blind, ability to speak to the mute. How much more important, however, are the miracles that happen in the secret chambers of human heart, when man’s spiritual eyes open and he gets to see everything differently! One can even say that there is no comparison here, because what’s the use of the physical sight, when a person is blind to the secrets of faith? Without spiritual vision there can be no faith and consequently, the man down the abyss. The role of faith has been emphasized from the very beginning. In the Old Testament we have numerous individuals who have shown tremendous faith and emphasized its importance. Abraham, for example, was constantly tested by God regarding his faith. Today he, the forefather Abraham, the Patriarch, is considered a father of all faithful because he is especially renowned for his faith in God. Many times God has commanded him to move from place to place, forcing him to leave his homeland: Get out of your own land, and out of your own land, and out of your father’s house, and go to the land that I will show you! (Genesis 12.1) From Ur of the Chaldeans to Haran, from Haran to the land of Canaan, and to Egypt because of famine, thence again to Canaan, then south to the land of the Philistines, etc. In the end he even tested him by asking him to sacrifice his long-awaited son Isaac as an offering. Of course, this didn’t happen because God does not want human sacrifices, but look just to what extent did He test Abraham’s faith and found him worthy of Him and called him His friend: Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. (James 2:23).
God also tested the faith of Israel’s chosen people. All the people had to believe in Moses’ words that after a hundred years they would finally reach the Promised Land. Although this was very hard to believe in, all the people followed the great Prophet. When they reached the Red Sea, persecuted by Pharaoh’s army, Moses, as a fruit of faith, divided the sea so that all the people passed across its dry bottom. In the forty years of wandering through the wilderness we see their faith fall and grow, tested with great temptations, finally, the second generation of those who came out of Egypt, reached the land promised by God, which at that time was inhabited by other nations. What impresses most is that during that period, whenever faith was present, everything went well; when she was absent, people were lost. Thus, for example, when the Israelites were attacked by the Amalekites, Moses climbed to the top of the mountain from where the Promised Land could be seen, and, according to divine revelation, spread his arms in the shape of a cross, praying to God. While his hands were spread like that, the Israeli army led by Joshua prevailed, but when he would get tired and powerless and put them down – the Amalekites prevailed. Then Aaron and Ohr, Moses’ companions, placed a stone, and Moses sat on it, so that he would not be weary, and they held his hands, one on the left, the other on the right. So, Joshua’s army reached victory. Even at that time with the sign of the cross, the Lord was letting people know that through the cross, through faith in the cross, in his uncreated energy, because the Son of God would be crucified on it, the final victory would come.
God also tested the faith of his people upon entering the Promised Land. The first city to conquer was Jericho. Interesting enough, God gave them this city without war. He told Joshua that they would have to circle the city seven times with the Ark of the Covenant and each time the priests should blow the trumpets – and the walls of the city would fall. And indeed, that is what happened. The Jews entered the city without any battle, without any loss of army or weapons. However, the Lord commanded Joshua that none of the soldiers should rob anything of the city. And, behold, one of the soldiers, named Achan, stole from the treasures that were in the city, without confessing it to Joshua. The next time, when Joshua was to fight against the army of the city of Gaius, he sent a much smaller army, thinking that it would be easy to defeat, since it was much easier to conquer and with much less defense. But the opposite happened – his army, though supreme in power, was terribly defeated. Then he prayed before the Lord and prayed sincerely to Him, asking Him why He had allowed His people to be defeated. The Lord replied: Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face? Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed my covenant which I commanded them: for they have even taken of the accursed thing, and have also stolen, and dissembled also, and they have put it even among their own stuff. (Joshua 7: 10-11). Look what happened just because a man did not believe the words that God spoke to Joshua! Just as Eve did not believe in Lord’s words.
Whenever we do not believe in God’s word, in God’s commandment, we lose, we fall. We should have no doubt that every word of God is true. And our Lord speaks to us daily, revealing His redemptive secrets to us. He speaks to us through the Scriptures, through the Holy Fathers, through the clergy in the Church, through our fellowmen, and through the world created by Him. If one but looks carefully at this God-created world, He would inevitably come across His perfect Creator: The heavens profess the glory of God, and the works of His hands declare the arch of heaven. Faith is like a spring breeze after the hard and cold winter. It is the first southern spring breeze which melts the snow and gives birth to the first flowers. Then everything changes, nature rises. The same thing goes for everyone who opens, through faith, the door of his heart to the Lord. What comes next is the wonderful virtues and fruits of the Holy Spirit: joy, peace, love, goodness … So, my dear, let us open our hearts and have faith in our Creator. Unfortunately, our hearts are often hard and cold. Sometimes the heart of a man is so rigid that neither the apparent miracles nor the revelation of nature and its perfect order can break human unbelief. And the Apostle Paul concludes that not everyone accepts the faith. Yes, God sends His calling to everybody, we are all invited, but not all of us will believe. After the Lord healed the blind, he told them not to tell anyone. He, of course, knew their faith and knew that they would talk about what really happened. They began preaching about Him all around the world. Then the Jews, consumed by envy and unbelief, said: He casteth out devils through Beelzebub the chief of the devils. Terrible blasphemy! The same thing is happening today. Many deny the Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. Some do not even want to believe in the existence of God or the presence of demons. “Science has proven,” they say, “that God does not exist.” Which science says that?! Well it’s so ridiculous. It’s not the science, but the dumbness, the darkened mind and the spiritual blindness which say that God does not exist. Recently I read an interesting statement from a great scientist of the last century, the quantum physicist Werner Heisenberg. I would like to paraphrase: “The first sip from the glass of natural science will make you an atheist, but the One Who awaits you at the bottom of the glass is God.” Anyone who would sincerely look into and study the secrets of this created world, will inevitably reach God. It’s not accidental that most of the serious scientists have believed in God. Just read their thoughts and reflections on God and you will see this for sure.
But, unfortunately, when a person’s mind is darkened, neither science nor miracles can help him unless he himself makes some effort to grow in faith. It is not easy, because we live in spiritual darkness, we are overwhelmed by passions, and that prevents us from believing. But you see, the Lord tests our faith. That’s why he asked the blind men: Believe ye that I am able to do this? He tested their faith, just like he tested Apostle Peter’s faith when he set out to walk on the sea towards Christ. At one time Peter began to sink, though the Lord assured him that he could come to Him. Then Peter started shouting: Lord, save me! Jesus immediately reached out, grabbed him, and said: O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? (Matthew 14: 30-31) He wants to show us that we need to be persistent in faith, because there are difficult moments in life, when we feel completely abandoned, left alone in the many temptations. But that’s not the case – God is always there, we just sometimes can’t see Him, feel Him. Just like when after the resurrection the Apostles Luke and Cleopas could not recognize that it was Him, when He appeared to them in another form and began to tell them about the Prophets and the Scriptures. He sometimes reveals Himself, but sometimes He hides, to teach us to believe and to endure the difficult moments of life with faith and patience.
In this regard, He Himself set an example for us with His life on Earth. Even at His birth he faced great temptations, first by King Herod. Being God, He could have destroyed Herod, killed him, but he did not. He sent an angel to Joseph and said: Get up, take the Infant and His mother, and flee to Egypt … (Matthew 2:13) Faith, then, requires an endeavor. If we read the Scriptures, we will see that Christ seeks faith from people and not just seeks it but also encourages it, motivating people to endeavor to come to faith, nourish it, and increase it.
May the Lord give us strong faith, and may we, on our part, never give up on Him in any way as well. Even when our faith is feeble, we should cry out like the father whose child had epileptic fits. You know, when Christ came down from Mount Tabor after the Transfiguration, many people were waiting for him down there, including a father with a son who was mute. He had taken his son to various doctors before, but to no avail. Then he turned to the Apostles for help, but they could not help either. Finally, when he saw Christ, this father cried out: But if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us and help us! To this the Lord responded with a challenge: If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth! Then the father sincerely confessed: Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief! (Mark 9: 22-24). Let us ask in a similar way Christ to help us with our unbelief, to open our spiritual eyes, as He opened the physical eyes of the two blind men today. Their spiritual eyes were already open, they recognized the Lord. And the priests and Pharisees were in far worse condition than the blind, in fact, they were so spiritually blind that they attributed the miracles our Lord performed, to the chief of the devils.
Pray that God give us shameless faith, a sure hope, and sincere love!
May you all be blessed!