Sunday, August 24, 2008

Our Struggle Makes Us Stronger

Four years ago, in July were enjoying a vacation with Presbytera’s family in Ohio. We both had jobs. Harry had just celebrated his first birthday. We were building a new house. Everything seemed to be going our way. When we returned from vacation, I was sitting in my office at the Cathedral when a friend called. (I wasn't a priest then.) “Did you really get fired?” he asked. “My key still works.” I said. Then another call, “My mom told me they fired you.” “The password on my computer still works.” I said trying to laugh it off. After the third call I went to the Priest’s office and mentioned the rumors I had heard. I was smart enough to know this couldn’t have been a coincidence. That night the Executive Board requested a meeting. Well I wasn’t fired. The Cathedral was going to restructure and my position would not exist after another month, but they were going to pay me for the rest of the year. That was the last real paycheck I received until June 30th two months ago. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I wondered how we were going to eat at seminary over the past four years. We struggled every day to makes ends meet.

My dear brothers and sisters, this morning’s Gospel is about faith and doubt and the struggle to maintain one over the other. We are again faced with doubt in the Apostles, just like last week. “Why could we not cast it out?” (Matthew 17.19) they asked Jesus after He cast out the demon in this morning’s story. Allow me to set the scene for you…

In the Gospel just before this is the Transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor. Peter, James, and John had just witnessed the Divine and Uncreated Light of God in Jesus Christ. After the Transfiguration Jesus tells His Disciples that He was about to suffer. (That was forty days before the crucifixion.) Then this man comes along kneeling and begging Christ to heal his son because the Disciples were unable to heal him themselves. He was healed immediately when Jesus cast out the demon that had possessed the son. When the Disciples asked God why they could not cast out the demon, Christ said, “Because of your unbelief.” (Matthew 17.20) “This kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” (Matthew 17.21) Then again Jesus told the Disciples that He was about to suffer. He said, “The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men, and they will kill Him, and the third day He will be raised up.” (Matthew 17.23)

So you see my dear brothers and sisters, this morning’s Gospel lesson is about struggle in our lives individually, as a Parish, and as the human race. It is about two struggles really. The first struggle is physical and emotional. We can clearly see the pain in the father as he begs Jesus to heal his son. The second struggle is one of faith. Jesus says, “Nothing will be impossible” if we have faith. And yet the boy lay their as seizures nearly drowned him and burned him to death. The only healing could come about through prayer and fasting.

Prayer and fasting is a tool that is often either not used or misused in our Church today. We will not discuss the various levels of fasting since there are different for each one of us. It is sufficient for this morning to simply state, “Christ tells us we have to fast,” here and in other places in the Bible. If we accept Christ at His word, which of course we should, and that nothing is impossible if we have faith, then even our physical struggle comes down to our faith struggle. And only through prayer and fasting can we begin to see this clearly.

It is the power found through prayer and fasting that we use to remain faithful against all odds. We spoke last week about remaining focused upon Christ and this can only be done with the power that is in prayer and fasting. Nothing is impossible Christ says, NOTHING and it is prayer and fasting that lead the way.

If we want to overcome the waves of life as we spoke about last week, we must be committed to prayer and fasting and remain focused upon God. My dear brothers and sisters in Christ if we are willing to struggle daily in prayer and fasting, then God will give us the Faith necessary to overcome our physical, emotion and spiritual struggles in life. We must find the time…

We must find the time every day to stand in front of our icons at home or come to Church and pray. We must pray that God helps us to understand first and foremost His Will for us in this life and if we are struggling with a particular problem we must ask Him to help us that too. And we must fast.

Fasting is not optional brothers and sisters. It is crucial to understanding who we are and who God wants us to become. The Church teaches us that we should fast every Wednesday and every Friday as part of our regular struggle along with our daily prayers.

St. John Chrysostom says, “See, at any rate, how many blessings spring from them both. For he that is praying as he ought, and fasting, hath not many wants, and he that hath not many wants, cannot be covetous; he that is not covetous, will be also more disposed for almsgiving.” (Chrysostom – Homily LVII On Matthew)

And what is almsgiving but caring for others needs above our own. Imagine how unstoppable we would be as a community, as a Church, as the People of God. We are still trying to raise $1 Million to complete the Narthex and Hellenic Center. Imagine if we were focusing on prayer and fasting as Christ commands, how much easier it would be to fund our new building projects. Imagine how many people who are in Florence, parishioners and other people, who would have their suffering relieved and their needs met.. Remember what is says in the Book of Acts, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrine and fellowship…and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.” (Acts 2.42-45) Chrysostom described this early community as, “an angelic commonwealth, not to call anything of theirs their own.” (Chyrostom Homily VII on The Acts of the Apostles)

Our only struggle my dear brothers and sisters in Christ is to pray and fast and remain faithful to Christ and His teachings and “nothing will be impossible” for us. It is only when our faith is weak that our struggle cannot be overcome.

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