On Divine courage

A sermon of His Reverence, Archimandrite Parthenius, delivered at the monastery refectory on the occasion of “The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost”.

Today, my dear ones, we have heard from the Gospel about the miracle which our Lord performed with the paralyzed man, placed on a stretcher, and carried by his relatives or friends. We are talking about the event described by the Evangelists Mark (2, 4) and Lucas (5, 19), in which the carriers of the paralyzed couldn’t reach Christ because of the crowd, so they broke the roof of the house where He was, and placed the man before Him. The Apostle Matthew briefly explains this with the following: And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee (Matthew 9, 2). And He healed the paralyzed.

One is amazed by the love God has for us, humans, and the ways it reveals itself. God acts methodically, wisely and in a premeditative way. His love is always appearing where it is supposed to and in the way it should. Christ noticed that the paralyzed felt distressed, frightened, agonized. Probably, while his friends were carrying him to Christ, he was disturbed by negative thoughts, fears – he was aware of his sinfulness: “Will He heal me? Won’t He reject me, despise me for my sins? What if He reproaches me, embarrasses me in front of everybody?” He was scared and this is quite normal. However, God saw all that in his heart and for that reason told him:” Don’t be afraid! Do not be afraid my child! Your sins are forgiven!” With His very first words He gave him courage, relieved him from fears and then called him His child. He made him see that He has parental love and attitude, so there should be no fear. Here our Lord reveals Himself as a Parent, as our Father. Remember what he taught His Disciples about the way they should pray: your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name… (Matthew 6,8-9) In the Old Testament the Jews did not call God their Father. They addressed Him with Jahweh (the One Who is), Elohim (God Creator), Adonai (Lord Master), Sabaoth (the Lord of Hosts), etc., but did not dare to address Him with Father. That was considered audacious.

The Lord Jesus Christ Heals the the Man at the Pool of Bethesda

But God is, above all, a parental principle, a perfect love, therefore when the Second Person of the Holy Trinity came to Earth as a man, He taught us to call God our Father. That is the conclusion of Apostle Paul, which he shared with the Romans: … (Romans 8,15-16) This parental principle has transferred to the people as well. The good raises his children in the spirit of blessed freedom, shows them attention, gives them a chance to talk to him about everything they want and ask from him whatever they need. The child goes to his parents and addresses him with the liberty of a son, saying: “Dad, mum this is happening to me, I need that …” And the parent tries to listen, to understand him, to provide his child with the things useful for him. Christ taught us to talk the same way to God and call Him Father, to appeal to Him for whatever we need. He encourages us in the prayer, he encourages us to plead to our Father for the things we need and be persistent: Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you… If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? (Matthew 7: 7, 11)

It’s natural and blessed for the earthly parent to encourage his children, give them good hope, bravery, endurance, still he should be very careful not to encourage his children too much and turn their blessed freedom into disrespect. One thing is courage, quite different is impertinence. It is good to promote courage, but one should not encourage impertinence, because in that case this is not a virtue, but rather a sin and a shameful thing. Unfortunately, today many people consider impertinence a virtue and some parents are even proud of the rudeness of their children. That is so terrible. Excessive freedom leads to slavery. May God protect us from impertinence and encourage our bravery, our prayer, our persistent search for salvation!

There is no way God could leave anybody empty, if he sincerely pleads to Him and addresses Him with love, as to a real Heavenly Father. In the Gospel and the entire Holy Bible, we find many examples of the way our Lord encourages people. He encouraged His Apostles. For instance, after the miracle with the blessing of five loaves and the feeding of people, Jesus sent the Disciples with a boat to the other side of the lake, while He Himself climbed the mountain to pray in solitude. Deep in the night, on open sea, He appeared to them, as if walking on a hard ground. The Disciples were horrified – they thought that they saw an apparition, some demonic illusion. Then Jesus spoke unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid! (Matthew 14, 27). He encouraged the sinful woman who wanted to anoint His feet. When those around Him rebelled against her, He said: Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me! (Mark 14, 6). He did the same thing with the woman who suffered from issue of blood for twelve years. She thought in herself: If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole (Mark 5, 30). Imagine the strength of this woman’s faith! As soon as she touched the very end of His garment, she felt healed. Then our Lord addressed the people: Who touched my clothes? (Mark 5, 30). The Apostles found this question strange and illogical, because so many people were crowding around Him, and He wondered who touched Him. They even remarked: Master, the multitude throng thee and press thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me (Luke 8, 45). However, God knew that someone had touched Him with faith, because He felt that some power was released from Him. Of course, He, Who knew the hearts, knew very well who did that, what exactly was there in her heart, but deliberately asked, in order to create an opportunity for a moral for everybody. So, when the woman realized that she could not go unnoticed, shaken by fear she confessed her years long suffering and her last action. Then Christ told her: Daughter, be of good comfort: thy faith hath made the whole; go in peace (Luke 8, 48). Later on, right after this event, – since our Lord went to the house of Jairus, whose daughter was dying – when they informed the head of the synagogue that his daughter had already died, He told him: Fear not: believe only, and she shall be made whole! (Luke 8, 50).

Do you see? God encourages us in every way. He constantly encourages us in the prayer, in the fit of love, in the struggles and diseases. He encourages us in every virtue, always, incessantly, but we, the people, being weak, often fall in sin, wither. Sometimes, in our weakness, when we are drowned by the temptations of this world, when we go through a shipwreck, some kind of inner devastation, we ask ourselves: “Oh, Lord! Have You abandoned us? Have we reached the end? Is there any righteous, honourable man left? Are there still some good people here?” All this imposes on us naturally, because sometimes we look for support in people, have the need to be encouraged by someone, to have somebody by our side, but it seems as if there is no one who could stand by us. Something similar to this happened to the holy Prophet Elijah. The great and zealous Elijah! Namely, in his time a general apostasy happened to the Israelites, the emperor Ahab with his wife Jezebel build idols all around the country and ordered idolatry, veneration of false Gods, of idols. In a moment of weakness, of human incapacity and fear, St. Elijah appealed to the Lord: I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away (I Kings 19: 10, 18). God encouraged St. Elijah, that in spite all that apostasy, there are still good people left. And if I may say, their number was not that small. The same thing goes for today. Even in our time there are good, righteous people, who sincerely believe and pray from the heart. I assure you that such people really exist, because as a confessor of many persons, I know people who are endowed with a wonderful natural goodness of heart and are fully dedicated to God. A man with a good heart can easily become a good Christian, because he already has the sound foundation for it. But even those who are maybe with bad temper, negative by nature and inclined to evil with their hearts – can also become very good Christians with a little bit more effort. The Lord encourages them as well: “Come”, He tells them, “don’t be afraid! There is no evil that I could not conquer or a sin that I could not forgive. You just come and confide in Me. though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool (Isaiah 1, 18).”

Courage is, therefore, necessary. Everyone is looking for it in a way. Some rely on themselves, i.e. trying to find courage in their inner self. Others are looking for it in the creation, thinking that nature is the source of courage. There are many such philosophical teachings and religions, such as Gnosticism, Pantheism, Naturalism, Theosophy, Masonry etc. However, all these represent, if I may express myself in philosophical terms, a closed circle. For example, I as a human being can lift more than seventy kilos, maybe even up to a hundred. I can, therefore, lift a weight surpassing my own weight, but the paradox lies in the fact that I cannot lift myself. Then what more can a man do? If I try to lift myself, to even pluck my hair and ears just to lift up, I still cannot manage to do that. So, it is a closed circle. When I cannot even lift myself, then how could I look for strength and courage in my own being. And even if I find them, they would just be a clandestine expression of my incapacity and nothing more.

But the courage and strength that comes from God, from His revelation is quite a different thing. He is the One Who could really help. The courage that comes from Him is the highest and most profound. Through it, we actually come to God, unite with Him. With all boldness, says the Apostle, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death (Philip. 1, 20). God in His essence is love and as we have said – reveals this love of His in various ways, pedagogically and methodically. He always knows what we need and when and in which way to provide that. Besides, as the Venerable Paisius the Athonite has stated: “God never does just one good deed, but more of them, and brings benefit not just to one person, but rather to several people”. So, do not be afraid, but go ahead and do good. It’s not right to restrain ourselves from good and become introvert, just because of fear and indecisiveness. Many people do not want to try, to encourage themselves, they are simply dull, overcome by melancholy. Such people cannot do anything. There is an old Jewish story about this. Once, the story tells, they have told a dull man: “Once, the story tells, they have told a dull man: “Get out of the town, go somewhere far away.”, and he replied: “I have heard that there are lions outside the town and attack the people they encounter.” “Well, ok”, they said again, “At least go out to the square, take a walk”. And he replied in a similar way: “I have heard that there are killers in the town, and they kill those who go on a walk”. Usually the idle man is indecisive and always finds a justification for his inactivity, his inclination to just sit and go nowhere, do nothing. But that is a sin too, you know. This is similar to the story in the Holy Bible: The slothful man saith, There is a lion in the way; a lion is in the streets (Proverbs 26, 13).

God wants us to be decisive in the good. Never to hesitate, because He always tells us: “Do not be afraid, I Am your Father, don’t fear. Come to Me and tell Me: Father, Dad…” Actually, that’s why He came to the world – to encourage the desperate humankind. The Evangelist Matthew in the 12th chapter of his Gospel repeats the ancient prophecy of Isaiah, which says: He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he sends forth judgment unto victory. And in his name shall the Gentiles trust (Matthew 12, 19-21). So, the purpose of our Lord’s coming to Earth was to resurrect the declined souls and to enflame the still hearts with the fire of His Divine love. Be sure that He would never leave us! Keep it always on your mind. Ask with faith, encouraged but not disrespectful.

May you all be blessed!