Exorcism Of The Lunatic Son

If Thou Canst Believe, All Things Are Possible to Him That Believeth

Mark 9:17‑31

4th Sunday of Great Lent



In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.


Brothers and sisters, this story the father with a son who is a lunatic is very familiar to us.  I hope you know its details very well and also, the teaching about prayer, fasting and faith.  We've talked about those things often[1]


Let's talk about something else today, something just a little bit different, related as part of this story:  God receives even the smallest amount of our effort and especially when we're beginners (and we are all beginners).  None of us are at the point where God withdraws His grace[2] from us because we are all still children. 


When you're a beginner, the Lord, as you give Him something, just something small, reacts in a warm and fatherly way so that you're encouraged.  If you look carefully, you'll see this.  If you're not seeing this, then you must do some things, such as reading the Scripture a little bit more, with attention, with looking for consolation.  And also, fasting and coming to the Services, confession, Communion, humbling yourself and obedience as your heart directs you.  All those things, those things that we always talk about.


But they're not just things to do because they're on a checklist of stuff.  We do them because we are looking for consolation.  We are looking for peace.  Peace is only possible through our Lord.


Now, we can pursue peace in many different ways.  And all these ways bring us some measure of temporary peace, but always with a great price to pay.  The only way to obtain true peace is through the filling of the Holy Spirit.  In principle this is simple, but in practice it is very difficult and complex because of our passions.


Let us look at how the Lord ministered to this man, what He knew about him and how He reacted to him.  And let us put ourselves in this man's place.  You have heard me say many times:  It's very important, when you read the Scriptures, read them with yourself in mind.  Read them as if they are speaking to you, as if the Lord is saying these things to you for your benefit and they apply to you.


And so let us be this man.  Thank God that none of us has a demon‑possessed child, but this man did.  He had a terrible burden in his life.  And his child would throw himself into the fire and into the water and wouldn't eat and was wasting away.  He wouldn't speak.  He was dying slowly in a horrible way, and the man couldn't do anything about it. 


Now, one can argue that this man's sins had something to do with it, and they probably did.  By the way, the Lord addressed him when He said, "O faithless and perverse generation". He was speaking to the man and to the Jews around who were questioning the Lord, trying to trip Him up.  So, yes, sometimes our own sins can terribly affect our children.  But nonetheless, this man loved his child, and he had a terrible burden and he didn't know how to have it fixed. 


Just before the Lord met the man, He went up Mount Tabor, with His three disciples, and the Transfiguration occurred, and, in the meantime, this man came to the other remaining disciples, and he spoke to them and asks them to heal his son, and they weren't able to do it.  So can you imagine this man had heard about so many healings by so many people and his son remained unhealed,  the despair that must have been in his heart -  The feeling of, no matter what I do, things are never going to be better?[3] 


When the Lord came back from the mountain, the man, in one last effort, went to the Lord, thinking this was his last chance.  And his faith about this encounter was not very strong at all.  In fact, he really didn't expect success because he said to Him, to our Lord, "***If*** thou canst do anything, have compassion upon us and help us."  This is truly the cry of a desperate and partially believing person[4].


Sometimes our sins, and sometimes our circumstances in life that may or may not be related to our sins cause us to have a sense of deep despondency.  I'm not talking about depression where you're always sad.  But I'm talking about a sense that things are not going to get better, things are always going to be this way.  And this man had that feeling.  He went to the Lord but not with much belief in Him. 


And so what did the Lord say to him?  At least he had come, right?  So the Lord reacted to him with warmth, and I imagine in my mind's eye when I read these words that He must have looked squarely at the man, perhaps held him by the shoulder and looked in his eyes with love and with acceptance and said, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth."  


So He reacted to the man's partial belief, semi‑belief, weak belief - with warmth and with acceptance. And this is what the Lord does with us, if we listen to Him carefully enough. 


I happen to know, as a confessor, that a lot of times you don't feel this reaction of the Lord.  You should look for it because it should be happening daily.  You should be getting some consolation from the Lord that, although you are a sinner and although you are weak in doing things over and over again that you shouldn't be doing, trying to change and not really changing very much, the Lord is telling you:  All things are possible if you believe.


You must believe this.  You must choose to believe it.  Here is a quick aside: the more you struggle to obey the Lord, and the less you sin, the more you will believe. We know in our heart the Lord can do anything, but we somehow make ourselves an exception as if the Lord can do anything for anybody else but He's not going to do for me, in a superstitious kind of way.  I've seen this many times.  We must choose to believe.  The Lord wants to help us and will help us.


So how does the man reply?  He is comforted a small amount because he says, "I believe."  And then he says, without any qualification, without any "If you could do this," he says actually, boldly, "Help my unbelief."  And of course the Lord then, after a small passage of time, healed his son completely.


This scenario happens to us, brothers and sisters; if you look carefully enough in your life you will see it.  None of us can say we believe in God completely.  We would be liars if we said that.  Because if you believe in God, that means you would follow Him in all things and obey all of His commandments and have no doubts in your heart. 


But we know, when we look in our heart, there are doubts in our heart.  So there is unbelief.  So let us go to the Lord and say, "I believe; help my unbelief."  And the Lord will react always to that prayer.  He will always help you. 


Now, we live in a culture that is, in many ways, all or nothing.  And it shouldn't be that way.  It should be something, always. 


It is better to do a very little thing than to not do a big thing.


So if you have had a terrible day, you didn't say your prayers in the morning, you've been cussing at people in traffic, you broke the fast, you have been irritated, you got in an argument with someone; in the evening, rather than to think the day is a total loss, I'm just going to go to bed or I'm going to watch TV or I'm going to have a drink -  instead say some prayers.  Even if it is only the Our Father, even if it is only to do a prostration.  In this time of year, you are to do the prayer of Saint Ephraim.  And perhaps it doesn't feel very fulfilling to you, and perhaps your heart doesn't feel like it's in it, but the fact that you are trying to force your heart to be in it, is you being this man saying "I believe; help my unbelief."  And the Lord reacted to that man and He will to you.


Now, we all have our bad days, times we have our bad weeks or bad years, but if we struggle to follow something of the Lord, He will help us to follow more.  This is a basic principle of life that we apply to other things, but we don't apply to our spiritual life very well.


If you can do a little thing, do it.  Absolutely.  Don't think that it's not enough.  Don't think that you've sort of made it inconsequential by all the other dumb stuff you did today. 

Do the little thing

If you did not fast for two meals, fast for the third. 

If you didn't say your prayers in the morning, say something at night. 

If you have been unkind, apologize. 

If you have someone in your heart that makes your heart feel dark because you're angry at that person, at least, at least say one prayer for that person that day. 


Even if it does not feel sincere, make yourself do it, then you are this man saying:  I believe; help my unbelief. 

I am a Christian, but I don't act like one; help me to act like one. 

I want to pray, but I pray hardly at all. 

I want to be pure in my thoughts, and I sometimes do have a pure thought; but for the most part, my thoughts are not pure.


You are being this man when you are taking a little thing and offering it to the Lord. 


Now, we don't offer little things to the Lord saying, "That's enough".  That's not what this man did.  He in essence was saying:  I believe poorly, I believe just a tiny, tiny bit, but I want to believe more.  And so your actions are proving to the Lord, or really proving to yourself ‑‑ our Lord needs no proof ‑‑ that you want to change. 


So do a little thing, if you cannot do a big thing, and then there is a wonderful thing that happens when you do a little thing with attention.  As best you can, gather your attention.  Perfect attention? -- Of course not.  Only the perfect have perfect attention.  But you do a little thing, and then later on you can do a slightly bigger thing and then an even bigger thing, and eventually you will be doing great things. 


This is a principle that you must follow, and it works.  It works faster for some because they take it more to heart and they force themselves more.  And slower for others because they allow the cares of this world and their laziness and their despondency to crush out these beginnings.  These little seedlings, chop them off instead of letting them grow a little bit more until they get big.


This is part of the story that is being told today.  There's a lot of other deep important theology, and most of the time I would speak about those things because they're important.  But as a pastor, I've seen that, if I speak about the importance of fasting, those of you who have trouble fasting will not fast very much more. So what I hope as a pastor is that you fast at least a little bit more and you believe that it will help you.  Not fasting a little bit more and saying, "That's enough, I've done plenty, after all, I'm not even eating meat today".  No.  Just say:  "I offer a little, O Lord, and I'm a selfish, self‑centered, belly‑centered person, I let my belly rule me, but at least today I will follow a part of the law and I will not eat meat today, and, O Lord, do thou help me as I make this poor offering, help me to do better and to have more purity, more self control later".


And He will help you.  It will happen.


That, I think, is the most important part of this story.  Because it is true that our passions do depart us with prayer and fasting.  It's absolutely true.  But it is also true that in the beginning, when we have many passions, we need much encouragement.  So let us listen to the Lord's encouragement.  If we say to him, "I believe, help my unbelief," He will respond every time. 


May God help you in all things.



Priest Seraphim Holland 2012    

Transcribed by the hand of Helen, may God save her and her loved ones. Remember the servant of God Alexander, reposed 04/03/2013.

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This homily is at:



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[1] Here are only a few examples:

Go to these places for many homilies on the lunatic son:

·         https://www.orthodox.net//sermons/index.html#10th_Sunday_of_Pentecost
·         https://www.orthodox.net//sermons/index.html#Fourth_Sunday_of_Great_Lent


Some of the specific homilies:

·         The Healing of the Demoniac Boy - The "Golden Chain" connecting faith and prayer and  fasting - https://www.orthodox.net//sermons/pentecost-sunday-10_2008-08-24.html

·         The Exorcism Of The Lunatic Son - Why fast? https://www.orthodox.net//sermons/pentecost-sunday-10_2009-08-16+demoniac-son+fasting.html

·         Why could we not cast him out?  https://www.orthodox.net//sermons/pentecost-sunday-10_2010-08-01.html

·         "This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting" There is no faith without labor. https://www.orthodox.net//sermons/pentecost-sunday-10_2012-08-12+this-kind-goeth-not-out-but-by-prayer-and-fasting_matthew17-14-23.mp3


[2] Yes this does not happen! It is a little understood part of the path to perfection. God never abandons us, He is always merciful, however, in order to strengthen us and teach us, there may be times when He withdraws His grace from us.  The grace of God is His abiding, personal presence with us, which the soul feels, even if our human flesh (our biological bins and their thoughts) does not necessarily understand or notice. Don't fret about this if you do not understand it. One cannot learn calculus before learning arithmetic! This idea is all over ascetical writings of the neptic fathers.

[3] the theme of our Lord dealing with our despair is all over the Gospels - the resurrection of the Widow of Nain's Son, the resurrection of the daughter of Jairios, and many other places. I suppose we had better figure out that despair and being stuck in a belief that things cannot change for the good in or life is just plain unbiblical!

[4] Remember  how you must read the bible. Does this remind you of anybody?