Explanation of Scripture read by Orthodox Christians on the 10th Sunday after Pentecost Matthew 17:14-23

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In that day, there was the superstition that when the moon came out, it made some people crazy, and they called such people lunatics. Actually, it was a demon, not the moon. Demons commonly use folklore and superstition to entrap the unwary, and remove suspicion from themselves. This demon obeyed the cycles of the moon because it suited his purpose, but he could actually afflict the boy at any time. The father blamed the moon, when actually there was someone else to blame, and not only the Devil, mind you, but himself also.


Fire is anger, and lust, jealousy and the rest of those hot passions, by which we are so afflicted and which are so tasty to us. They must be tasty and succulent to our sinful souls because we indulge ourselves so often in these terrible passions. (See Blessed Theophylact)


The water quenches zeal, quenches ardor, quenches desire for holy things. It is worldly cares. (See Blessed Theophylact)


Three of the disciples were missing when the man came seeking help for his boy from the remaining eight disciples. Looking back a few verses we see that this was at the time of the Transfiguration:

"And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, {2} And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light" (Matthew 17:1-2)


Blessed Theophylact explains that Jesus is rebuking everyone present. He rebukes the man because of his weak faith, the disciples because they could not heal the boy because of weak faith, and in a veiled way, the Jews who would soon betray Him and reject Him.


When Jesus said "how long shall I be with you?", He was referring in a veiled way to His upcoming passion and subsequent resurrection and ascension. At the time He uttered this saying, His days of earthly ministry were coming to a swift end.


Jesus clearly told the disciples that they could not cast out the demon because of their unbelief, and His embellishment on this point gives us much knowledge about how to increase our belief.


The mountain Jesus refers to is our own hard-hearted soul, which is difficult to move, as it is weighed down by passions. Through faith, we will move the stone off our heart, and truly know Christ, intimately, and without shame.

A mountain is high. Pride exalts itself, and raises itself up, as if to the heavens, like the tower of Babel. The Devil, the liar, the slanderer - he is like a mountain, exalting himself up to the heavens. And we can say to this mountain move, and IT WILL MOVE, if we have faith. Wherever this mountain might be, whatever affliction we might have, whether it be of ourselves, or of someone that we care about, indeed we can say to the mountain, "move", and it will move, IF we have faith as the mustard seed.


The mustard seed is a small, tiny seed, very very small, but it is very pungent and hot. There is warmth and flavor in it, and it affects a dish exquisitely with its pungent flavor. And also, when you put it into the ground, it grows into a great tree. This is what our faith should be like. It need not be big in a worldly sense, but it needs to be hot, pungent. It must be strong, and it needs to grow.

"Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: 32Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof" (Matthew 13:31)


Our Lord also told the disciples concerning the demon, "This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting." It is related to what He had just said about faith, because the mustard seed, when it grows, is buffeted by winds, and in danger for much of its life as a seedling, but it grows into a great tree, and there is abundant fruit from it. Without prayer, and without fasting, we don't have faith. We do not have faith, or love for God, if we do not live how He has told us to live.

This way of life includes prayer, fasting, desire, putting God first in all things. If we do this, then "this kind" - meaning not just the "kind" that made the boy fall into the fire and the water, but also the passions that make us fall into fire and into water will be eradicated from our souls, and we will find peace.

This "kind" that is embedded in our souls - this kind comes out not but by prayer and fasting. This does only mean prayer and fasting in a literal sense, which is absolutely necessary. Without fasting, the church does not see how a man can be saved. This is on account of our character.

The church understands this and that is why it is obligatory upon us, because it is necessary for our salvation. The "prayer and fasting" enjoined upon us by our Savior also includes the whole continuum of the Christian life, and the whole perspective we should have.

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