The Fourth Sunday Of Great Lent
The Healing of the Boywith a dumb and deaf spirit

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today is the fourth Sunday of Great Lent and on this day we read about the healing, at the request of his father, of the boy who is possessed of a demon. There are many things to understand about this scripture, but we can only touch on a few of them now. For now I want you to consider what it was that this demon did to the boy. The father comes to Christ and describes his plight, a pitiable plight. This boy is cast into the fire and into the water by this demon, this deaf and dumb demon. According to the fathers, deaf because he would not allow the boy to hear the word of God, and dumb because the boy could not speak out in praise of God.

And what is the fire? It's not just material fire as it was for this boy, but also the fire of anger, lust, those hot sins in which we seem to have so much pleasure partaking, and that seem to have such a hold on us. That is fire. Jealousy, hatred, rage. Those kind of things are fire.

And what is the water? Well, the water is equally pernicious to the soul. It is to be thrust into worldly cares - as blessed Theophylact says, "the crushing waves and billows of worldly care." That's what the water is. There's not a sin that you can think of that is neither fire nor water. Nothing.

Now this boy was completely possessed. He was incapable of free thought. He was incapable of free action because this demon controlled him. It took him where it wanted, it made him fall down where it wanted, it threw him towards the water or towards the fire, and the boy's father could only with great difficulty save him from being burned or being drowned. It's not too much different, really, for us. We unfortunately addict ourselves to sins -- fire and water. Our plight is also a terrible one. We're addicted, we must admit this. We must admit that we need help. We must see ourselves for who we truly are and then we can come to Christ for healing.

Christ says to the man who wants his son to be healed, "All things are possible to him that believeth." This is true. We understand this. We accept this. We're Christians. We say, " Absolutely, God can do everything. God can heal any man, God can raise a corpse from the dead, make the lame to walk and the blind to see." Ah, but then we lose our faith when it comes to fire and water, as this man did as well. Because when we look at ourselves , we doubt. We doubt that God can heal us . He can heal somebody else, and He can certainly do physical things. We believe that. We read the lives of the saints, we read the scripture, we believe that when Tabitha was raised from the dead she really was. We believe that when Lazarus came out of the tomb, God had brought the breath of life back into him. We believe.

But do we believe that God can deliver us from our sins, from our passions, from things that we have been doing "of a child"? Most of our sins are from childhood. They're built from childhood. We're built into little sinning-machines when we're little, and it's very, very hard to extricate ourselves from our passions and our difficulties later. This boy was of a child being thrown into the fire and into the water, and it's the same with us. Now do we believe that God can deliver us from our passions? Do we really believe? The evidence that I have as a pastor is to the contrary. Most of us struggle mightily with this disbelief. And because of that, we don't make the progress we should. We must believe.

We have the examples of the lives of the saints to show that God has taken people who have sinned sometimes much worse even than we, and made them great, made them perfect and holy. We have the example of St. Mary, which, unfortunately, so many of you will not hear this coming week. (Note: The Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete, with the life of St Mary of Egypt, is chanted on Wednesday evening, the fifth week of Great Lent, which follows the Sunday of St John Climacus, the Sunday on which this sermon was preached. At St Nicholas, this service is at 6:30 PM , year after year, and too many miss this service, and have despondency over their sins, and continue to have weak faith, year, after year) Because ... I don't know why you won't. But many of you will not be present on Wednesday night to listen to an example of how God can completely heal a person. Mary didn't doubt. This was a woman who'd been a prostitute, and worse than a prostitute. She'd had thousands of lovers. Every impurity possible that can be imagined and many that, I'm sure, we could not even imagine, she had partaken of and defiled herself over and over. And what did she do when she came to repentance? She believed that God could change her. She believed that God could deliver her from fire. She didn't have too much trouble with water; for her it was the hot passions that were going to destroy her and burn her up. But she believed.

Now we must believe. These words are difficult words because it's difficult for us to believe, to really think we can change. Over and over we doubt ourselves. Over and over we doubt that God can remove from us a certain sin. Or sometimes, to be perfectly frank about the matter, sometimes there is a sin that we like and that we don't really want to let go of. And when we do that, there's this guilt in us that pushes us away from holy things and then causes disbelief.

Now these are hard words, and our Lord knows this. So because of that, the words of this man are recorded. Mark these words well, because they give hope. "Lord, I believe. Help Thou my unbelief." What is that - a riddle? No, this is what God does to the soul. He takes our unbelief, and if there's the merest, slightest seed of belief in us, he makes it grow. In St. Matthew's Gospel, He explains after the healing that if your faith is as a mustard seed, God will do anything. A mustard seed is tiny; you can barely see it. It's like a celery seed - very, very small. But it's very pungent and it seasons the whole dish, and it grows into a great, great tree, from a very small beginning. So if you have unbelief, beg God to help you believe. Now you must also do the other things as well. There's an important example of the Christian life, really in microcosm the entire importance of the incarnation, at the end of the healing of this boy. Be careful now with Scripture! It often teaches an incredible depth of knowledge in two or three words. Very laconic. Not like me; it takes very little space to say great things!

What happened to the boy after he was healed? The father had a small amount of belief, and God said, "I will heal him. I charge thee, deaf and dumb spirit, come out of him, and don't ever come back." Very important. We'll talk about that another time. But the boy falls to the ground. It's like he's dead. The people think he's dead. But Christ takes him by the hand and raises him up. God becoming man raises us up. God takes on our infirmities and makes us able to live. This you must understand. This is the implication of the incarnation. This is why we can be saved. God has made our flesh able to live - He lifts us up. The whole meaning of the incarnation - it makes us able to live!

Then what happened when the boy was lifted? It says, "he arose." The boy stood up, he was helped and then he stood up. And this is our work in the Christian life. This is our labor in response to God's help. Now if you do not labor you will have troubles with disbelief , because belief, or purity and belief, are tied perfectly together with labor. This is why when the man came to him with the boy, our Lord said, "Oh faithless and perverse generation." He says that in St. Matthew's Gospel. Faithless and perverse. From perversity, acting unnaturally - sin is perversity by the way - comes disbelief and faithlessness. From purity comes faithfulness . They're in a circle, either in the vicious circle, the spiral ever downwards because of lack of purity and faithfulness, or in this blessed circle, where God, when He sees our desire to stand up, helps us and fills us more with knowledge. And our faith is increased, and our knowledge is increased. And we are so thankful when we have God revealed to us that we become better. And we become more pure. And as we become more pure, God, who reveals Himself to the pure, further reveals Himself to us.

You must understand this mechanism of salvation if you are to be saved. You must believe, and you must act upon your belief. God will raise you up, but then you must stand. Now I can only exhort you to stand - I cannot make you stand. God will help you to stand, but He will not make you. It is an act of your will that you must stand, and you must work, and you must walk in the Christian life. Now if you have trouble with belief, you can look into yourself and see the core of this disbelief. You will see, if you look carefully, it is because you are not living the Christian life. Not effectively, not as much as you should. It's a lot of laziness, a lot of inactivity as far as fulfilling the commandments. This is why you're having trouble with belief.

Now, maybe you have trouble with some passions and you desire to change. All right, God has an answer for you. The man said, "Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief." We all doubt. It is unfortunately part of our human nature. We see so much that's wrong with us, and it's hard for us to believe we can be changed. To me, this is the sweetest thing about Christianity. God will change us. We won't be like this in the other life. We'll change. There will not be suffering. There won't be problems with anger, with lust. There won't be sadness. There won't be dysfunction. God will change us. We must believe this.

If we do not believe, we're not really Christians, and God won't change us if we don't believe. Or at least, if we don't have that small mustard seed of belief. Cultivate it well, brothers and sisters. Cultivate this seed. Feed it with activity, with fasting, with prayer, with desire, with forcing yourself to pray when you don't want to, to come to church when you don't want to, to make time for confession when it's too easy to be, shall we say, drowned in the water, in worldly cares. Cultivate this seed of belief. Then God will hear your prayer. When you say, "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief," He will hear it. And He will strengthen your belief. And then when you feel His hand in yours, stand. Amen.

Mark 9:17-31 And one of the multitude answered and said, Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit; {18} And wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away: and I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not. {19} He answereth him, and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him unto me. {20} And they brought him unto him: and when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming. {21} And he asked his father, How long is it ago since this came unto him? And he said, Of a child. {22} And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us. {23} Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. {24} And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief. {25} When Jesus saw that the people came running together, he rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him. {26} And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him: and he was as one dead; insomuch that many said, He is dead. {27} But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose. {28} And when he was come into the house, his disciples asked him privately, Why could not we cast him out? {29} And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting. {30} And they departed thence, and passed through Galilee; and he would not that any man should know it. {31} For he taught his disciples, and said unto them, The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day.