|43 - Prayer & Fasting, Aug 9, 2015|
I Cor 4:9-16
Gal 5:22-6:2 (St Herman)
Luke 6:17-23 (St Herman)
In 1976, our parish was established as a mission under the patronage of St Herman of Alaska. We are blessed to have three relics of St Herman: one is sewn into the antimens on our altar; another is in the icon of St Herman that rests on the icon stand in the middle of the nave; and, the third is imbedded in the large icon of St Herman that greets you when you enter the nave.
Let me say a word about relics. Everything the Orthodox Church says and does follows from and bears witness to the mystery of Our LORD’s Incarnation: His becoming flesh and dwelling among us. This is why we venerate the relics of the saints. In the Church, in the Body of Christ, the Holy Spirit touches our “inner man”, our “secret heart”, by means of our flesh, the “outer man”. The waters of Holy Baptism wash over our outer man and our inner man is raised from death to life. In Holy Eucharist, we receive with our outer man the consecrated gifts, and our inner man opens beyond the world, beyond the grave, out into the Kingdom of Heaven and we become partakers of God Himself. Illumined by the mystery of the Church, we see clearly, then, this symphony of the outer man and the inner man; the choices we make, or how we engage the one affects, or rather transfigures the other.
The Church desires our transfiguration, our glorification. Her prayer is that we become partakers of the divine nature. And so, the Church calls us to “commend ourselves and our whole life to Christ God”. This is the call of Christ to deny ourselves, to repent, to “turn around” and follow Christ inward. He alone can lead us into the sanctuary of our heart and transform it from a tomb – for we are spiritually dead in our sins and trespasses – into a bridal chamber that brings forth the “fruits of the Spirit”. The fragrance of the Holy Spirit emanates from the sanctuary of our inner man like incense and transfigures our outer man into a temple of God, for we have been joined, body and soul, nave and sanctuary, to the Body of Christ, the Temple of God.
This wonder is what we see in the saints, the grace of the Holy Spirit permeating them both in soul and in body, manifesting itself in their inner man by the “fruits of the Spirit” – love, joy, gentleness, peace – and, sometimes even in their outer man by a sweet fragrance or by with the uncreated light of Christ as when He was transfigured on Mt Tabor.
When the saints die, their souls are separated from their bodies, but their bodies are in no way separated from God. God the Father holds both the body and the soul of the saints in the Hands of His Son, our LORD Jesus Christ, and His Holy Spirit. When the saint dies, then, or shall we say, falls asleep in the LORD, his or her body in no way loses the grace of the Holy Spirit that filled it when the saint was still alive, or shall we say, in the body. For, the relics of the saints are sources of healing. They may emit a sweet fragrance, they may become fonts of flowing myrrh. All of these miracles that surround the relics of the saints bear witness to the mystery of the LORD’s Incarnation and of His Holy Resurrection; for, the Holy Spirit by whom the LORD was conceived of the Virgin Mary and who raised Him in the flesh from the dead continues to dwell and to be active in the relics of the LORD’s saints as in His holy temple.
So, when we draw near the relic of a saint, we draw near the Holy Spirit who is in them. When we honor the relic of a saint, we confess, we honor, we praise and glorify, and we submit to the LORD Jesus Christ in the mystery of His incarnation, His Holy Resurrection and His Glorification that the saint’s body is now a witness to, a relic of.
Can you see, again, in the transformation of body and soul shown forth in the life of the saint this symphony of the outer man and the inner man? We engage our inner man, our heart, by engaging our outer man, our body. Surely we know the truth of this from our own experience: if we indulge our fleshly desires can we not feel a certain sickness and darkness spreading over the soul of our inner man? We are becoming a spiritual corpse and our heart is becoming a tomb. But, when in love for Christ and His holy Mother we turn in repentance and take up the cross of the Church’s ascetic disciplines, do we not feel almost at once the fruits of the Spirit, a certain joy and light being sown in our inner man? I think that is the manifestation of our heart being transfigured into a bridal chamber of Christ, a temple of the Holy Spirit.
See what happens in this morning’s Gospel when the father offers his son to the LORD. The boy’s “inner man” is cleansed of the demon and his “outer man” is healed of its severe affliction “in that very hour.” When asked why they could not heal the boy, the LORD told His disciples that this kind of demon could not be expelled except by “prayer and fasting” – i.e., only by turning in one’s inner man to the LORD in prayer, and by denying oneself in one’s outer man through fasting. See the transformative, healing power of the Church’s ascetic disciplines, the incarnate form of the Savior’s Holy Cross.
St Herman was afflicted with a life-threatening condition early in his monastic life. A growth appeared on his throat that swelled rapidly. It stank, it disfigured his face, it made swallowing difficult for him so that he was in critical condition. Locking his cell, he “offered” himself to the Most Blessed Theotokos with prayers and tears the whole night. Should we note that he was “praying and fasting”? He then took a wet towel and with it he wiped the face of the Blessed Panagia, and with the towel he covered the growth on his throat. I cannot help but notice how St Herman’s “ritual” with the wet towel is so very much like the rituals of Holy Baptism. Note the ritual’s physicality. He “clothes” the growth on his throat with the towel made wet with water, an image of the Holy Spirit, just as the body of the newly baptized, having been before the “lair” of demons and now made wet with the waters sanctified and even filled with the Holy Spirit, is clothed with the Robe of Light.
St Herman fell asleep on the floor, exhausted. In a dream, he saw the Panagia healing him. He awoke in the morning and to his surprise, saw that the growth on his throat was gone. Only a scar was left behind as a reminder of the healing miracle.
There is a lesson for all of us in this morning’s Gospel and in the life of St Herman: that when we offer ourselves to the LORD through prayer and fasting, we receive spiritual healing that transfigures us body and soul. Our body becomes a temple, our soul a sanctuary where God dwells.
But, I see a lesson also specifically for the parents. Parents, let’s take heart from what happens to the father’s son in this morning’s Gospel when he offered him to the LORD in the prayer: “LORD, have mercy on my son!” The boy was healed within and without.
St Herman entered the monastic life at the age of 16, maybe even 12 if he was born in 1760 and not 1756. This, it seems to me, shows that his parents were offering their son to the LORD daily in prayer and fasting. We see in the life of St Herman, which has brought the healing of Christ to countless souls, the consequence of his parents’ prayers.
The parents of our children at St Herman’s are loving and conscientious; but, there are times when we feel discouraged because we feel that we often are not the “good” parents we wish we were. I think that the life of St Herman and our Gospel this morning show that that Our LORD listens and responds quickly to parents who are offering their children to Him in prayer, so that commending our children to the LORD in prayer is the one, single most important thing we can do for our children. It makes up for our failings and shortcomings.
I hope that this encourages us to establish ourselves in prayer and fasting so that our bodies may become a temple in which God dwells and our souls a garden that brings forth the fruits of the Spirit unto the healing of our soul and body. Amen.