1 Timothy 1.15-17

Hebrews 13.7-16

Matthew 5.14-19

Matthew 15.21-28

We’re about to leave the Winter Pascha with the Feast this Tues and Wed of the Meeting of the LORD in the Temple; and the liturgical path of our inner Exodus has already begun gently to ascend. The path is set before us in the Church’s biblical lectionary. It shows the LORD making His way to Jerusalem. The path of our inner Exodus, the LORD Jesus Himself, is now passing over into the foothills that go up to Jerusalem, which is just outside the Gates that open onto Eden. Those Gates are on Golgotha! Pay attention to the lectionary over the next several weeks and you should see that those Gates are the LORD’s Cross and His Tomb. These are the Gates that open onto Great Lent, and they are our destination now.

But the Tomb will be sealed (the Holy Doors will be closed), not unlike the Tree of Life closed off by the flaming sword. Yet, it is into that Tomb we must get somehow, for it is in the LORD’s Tomb that we come into the Savior’s Resurrection. So, the Church is showing us in the Gospels of Her lectionary the path hidden from the ages that alone gets us into the LORD’s Tomb. It is the Path of Great Lent that begins at the LORD’s Tomb.

For, we will read on the Thursday before Great Lent begins: Then the myrrhbearers turned downward or inward (hypostrepho), and prepared spices and ointments. They descended into the stillness of the prayer, in the dread mystery of the LORD’s Sabbath, according to the commandment.’ (Luk 23:56). What prayer? The prayer we heard last Sunday from blind Bartimaeus; and the prayer we hear this morning from the Canaanite woman: ‘Have mercy on me, O LORD, Son of David!’

Dear faithful, in the Gospels of these pre-Lenten Sundays, even before we come to the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee (two weeks from today), when we open the Lenten Triodion, the Church is revealing to us the hidden path by which we will come into the LORD’s Tomb. It is the same Path by which we come into the tomb of our own heart, the tomb of Lazarus, wherein the Path leads us into the LORD’s Tomb on Great and Holy Saturday! It is the way of our baptism that unites us to Christ in the likeness, the participation, of His death and resurrection, the way of prayer and fasting in self-denial and repentance; it is the way of the Cross; it is the way, the path, of Faith.

And we see in the Gospels of these Sundays leading up to Great Lent what the path of faith looks like, so that we can begin now to walk in this faith that opens onto us the dread mystery of the LORD’s Holy Pascha.

‘Woman,’ the LORD says this morning to this woman of Canaan come down from the hills: ‘Great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire!’ Let’s study this faith of the Canaanite woman, so that we may learn the faith we need to practice if we are to come into the LORD’s Holy Pascha.

First, consider: on the fourth Sunday after Pascha, at the well of Jacob in Samaria, the LORD asks the Samaritan woman for a drink of water from the well. On this, the sixth Sunday before Great Lent begins, can you see how the LORD draws from the well of the Canaanite woman’s soul to drink the water of her ‘great faith’? Let me show you.

It’s the woman’s love for her daughter that drives her to seek the Savior, because her daughter is ‘wickedly possessed by a demon.’ In her maternal compassion, she longs for the healing of her daughter. She has no use for religious ideas that tickle the brain. They will not save her daughter from the torments of the demons.

So here is the first property of her faith that we can see: love for her dear one that gives birth in her mother’s heart to a desperate plea to the God who alone can save, imploring Him to save her daughter.

Do you have loved ones? Your love for them can be the seed of faith that saves you and them, if you will concentrate your love for them on the prayer of your heart to the LORD Jesus Christ for their salvation. [Moreover, the woman’s daughter, it says, was wickedly possessed by a demon. This gives us room, I believe, to say that we can pray for a departed loved one, too, in our love for them, and this, too, can sow in our heart the seed of ‘great faith’ that saves them and us.]

But, the LORD, it says, answered her not a word! How often, when you pray, does it seem that the LORD answers you not a word?

How do you respond when you feel that the LORD answers you not a word? Even the disciples of the LORD were coming at this grieving woman to chase her away. What do you do when impatience or anger or laziness comes at you to chase you away from the LORD in prayer? But of this woman, it says that she drew nearer to Him and worshipped Him, crying out, ‘LORD, help me!’ Can you see how she is being drawn by the LORD’s silence deeper into the ‘well’ of her soul?

So, here we see a firm resolve to cling to the LORD, a determination to take Him by force if necessary. Even so, we see in her pitiful cry: ‘LORD, help me!’ that she is coming to the end of her rope. The LORD’s silence is drawing her down to the bottom of her soul and there is drawn out from her depths the waters, the tears, of a visceral compunction! She begins to feel viscerally that she has no other helper but the LORD, if only He would! And, we see her made bold by her visceral longing for the salvation of her daughter, so that she dares to draw nearer the LORD to worship Him!

But even yet the LORD looks at her only to insult her! You are a dog, He says; you are not worthy even to sit at my Table!

But, is it an insult? Or is it His judgment that is true? Feel how the Canaanite woman answers Him in your gut: ‘Yes, LORD, I am a dog. I am not worthy even to sit at your table! Even so, do you not allow even dogs to eat the crumbs that fall from your Table?’

Here, I believe, we have come to the most essential property of faith: brokenness of heart, humility, a clear vision of the depth of one’s sinfulness and a visceral hungering and thirsting for God. This is the beginning of wisdom, the birth of true self-knowledge.

Can you see that the LORD’s bucket now has touched the bottom of the Canaanite woman’s soul and there He finds what He is looking for: brokenness of heart and contrition, the laying aside of every excuse and every defense in the acknowledgement, too deep for words, of her sins that have made her to become a dog, and that she knows and confesses that she is not worthy even to sit at the LORD’s Table, let alone even to call on Him!

So, why do we not see her falling into despair? For she still holds out the hope that she might yet be granted to eat the crumbs that fall from His Table, which, she knows by her faith, will be more than enough to save her daughter!

Dear faithful, I believe she does not fall into despair because this brokenness and humility that are the most essential properties of her ‘great faith’ are what constitute the path of Great Lent by which we descend to come inside the LORD’s Tomb! For, see how the brokenness of her faith opened the tomb of her heart to receive the LORD, like the Tomb that received the LORD’s Body taken down from the Tree—for on the Cross, this same LORD who knew no sin became sin for us: He became a dog for us. In His death, He became absolutely one with us who were dead in our sins and trespasses. He became a dog as we are, so that we could become, in union with Him, gods, for we become, in union with Him, children of God, partakers of His own divine nature.

So, we see that the LORD’s judgment of us is not to condemn us but to heal us, to reveal to us our sickness so that we will repent of our sins and live. And indeed, to those of ‘great faith’, to those of a broken and contrite heart, His judgment is experienced as profoundly therapeutic, cleansing, saving, as we see this morning in this Gospel of the Canaanite woman. And we will see in the Gospel of the Prodigal Son, that those of ‘great faith’ experience not just the cleansing and the forgiveness of their sins, and not just the healing of their souls, but they are made worthy to sit and eat at the LORD’s Table—because they are given to see that deeper than their having become ‘dogs’, they are in fact, from the beginning, sons and daughters of the Father, made in the Image of His Son and in the Likeness of His Holy Spirit!

So, how can we sow in ourselves this great faith of the Canaanite woman? Here is a suggestion that comes not from me but from a sainted Elder of the Holy Mountain: set aside a time each day to enclose yourself in the closet of your heart and, putting yourself in the mind of the Canaanite woman, turn your mind heavenward, inward, and say with attention this prayer of blind Bartimaeus and the Canaanite woman: ‘LORD Jesus Christ, Son of God, Son of David, have mercy on me and save me, a blind man, a dog, a sinner!’ Work to come down from the hills of self-righteousness. Lay aside every excuse and every defense. Be persistent and let the prayer draw you deeper into your soul; when you begin to see with your own eyes that you are a dog, unworthy to sit at the LORD’s table, you are drawing nearer to the LORD. For, the LORD is found in the deep, in the tomb of our heart, where we are desperately corrupt, where we have become dogs, more in the likeness of Lucifer than in the likeness of the LORD Jesus Christ, the Image of God in whom we were made. And when we begin to mourn and to see the truth of ourselves, that we have become dogs, unworthy to sit at the LORD’s Table, take heart for this means that ‘great faith’ is taking root in our soul, the faith that attracts the LORD and chases away the devil, the faith by which we are saved—by which we are restored to our original beauty and nature as sons and daughters of the Great King! Let us begin to get ready for the great and holy Fast by imploring the LORD with all our heart to grant to us this ‘great faith’ of the Canaanite woman! Amen!