45 - Prayer and Fasting and Casting Out Evil, Aug 12, 2012

I Corinthians 4:9-16

Matthew 17:14-23

“This kind [of evil] does not come out except by prayer and fasting,” the Savior tells His disciples. Certainly, this life is filled with evil. Even the righteous are surrounded by evil and besieged by it so long as they are in this life. Trials and tribulations assail us. Suffering and distress, sickness and maladies of all kinds of both soul and body beset us. All of these have the odor of death about them because they pervert, distort and destroy us in both soul and body. And since death is the bitter fruit of sin, they are the face of sin. They are the vines of sin that extend from the grave to wrap around all of us living in this world. The world God created was good and beautiful, says the bible. There was no poison of death in it. He created Man originally in the image of His own immortality (Wisd of Sol 1:13-14 & 2:23). The evils that we suffer in this life are therefore the irrefutable witness to the tragedy of man’s sin, of his rejection of God in disobedience through the envy of the devil and through his own self-wilfulness (Wisd of Sol.).

Thus, when we are beset by distress and suffering, sickness and infirmity, injustice and deceit, we are face to face with the tragic reality of sin and its bitter fruit of death. Even if we are lucky enough to escape sin’s frontal assaults, we are not untouched by its bitterness, like the father in this morning’s Gospel. He himself was not the one afflicted by the demon, but no doubt he was sick with distress over the suffering of his son; and the crowd was distressed seeing the boy’s suffering; and the disciples were distressed not only because of the boy’s suffering but because they discovered that they were helpless against the evil afflicting the boy, even though they were the Lord’s disciples.

In this morning’s Gospel, Christ comes to the distressed crowd gathered round the suffering boy from the heights of Mt Tabor where He was transfigured in the sight of Peter, James and John who beheld His glory “as far as they could bear it.” So also Christ came from a mountain to the distressed disciples down in the boat tossed about on the stormy sea. There He calmed the storm and the waves and brought the disciples safely to shore. Here He heals the boy and calms the boy’s father and the crowd.

Here, we have an Evangelical icon of the Gospel, the Good News, of the Incarnation. God the Word in whom and by whom all things were made, the light of the world in whom is the life of men, comes down to us in this suffering world from heaven as from a high mountain. He empties Himself and takes the form of a servant and unites Himself to us completely, even to the point of sharing in the suffering and grief of our death. He takes upon His shoulders the inexorable weight of sin’s death and dissolution. Begotten timelessly of the Father, Christ descends into space-time and is born of the Panagia. The Church calls her the Holy Mountain. She is Mt Zion. On the holy mountain that is the Theotokos, Christ becomes flesh and from the mountain of the Theotokos He descends to dwell among us, to become completely one with us.

Though He is Himself without sin, He becomes as though He were a sinner, like us, and He voluntarily submits to our death, even though He is Himself the Life and the Source of Life, so that He can destroy our death by His death. He destroys it by the power His love; and in this power, He casts out the evil one from the heart of the world. By His Cross, He is able to heal not just some but every affliction, to calm not some but every storm and bring not some but all to safe harbor.

But this is only the beginning of the “Good News” of the Gospel. “This kind [of evil],” says the Savior, “comes out only by prayer and fasting.” This word of the Savior is filled with the Good News of the Gospel. He is telling us that, if we want to, we can receive Christ and become so one with Him as He became one with us that, just as He shared with us in our death, we can share with Him in His Resurrection. We can become partakers of His own divine nature and of the power of His divine nature because Christ is in us. Through prayer and fasting, we carry out – we render incarnate in our worldly life – our baptismal oath to unite ourselves to Christ in the likeness of His death and resurrection; and, in our union with Christ, we partake of the power of His Cross and we, too, are able to cast out the evil one and all his hosts and all his pride not only from our own soul and body but from the souls and bodies of others. The lives of the saints give abundant testimony to this truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed by His Holy Church.

Prayer and fasting: these are the heart of the Church’s ascetic discipline; and, they are the flower that blossoms from the wood of Christ’s Holy Cross. So we learn from the Church’s liturgical texts of Great Lent. To pray and to fast, then, is how those who would follow Christ take up their cross in obedience to Christ’s command.

Through fasting, we lose our life in this world because we renounce the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life for the sake of Christ. Through prayer, we work to be conformed no more to the world but to be transformed by the renewing, the reshaping of our mind in the life and light of Christ. Prayer and fasting constitute the inner, hidden work of the mind and heart of those who love Christ. It is the work of repentance by which they ascend the mountain to Eden that has been opened to all by the death and Resurrection of Christ. It is the work of reconfiguring their daily routine so that they are redeeming the time, not frittering it away with empty, meaningless pursuits and diversions. It is their preparation for the moment of their death when they will stand before Christ face to face and have to give an account of themselves before the one who created them and then redeemed them from the power of the evil one by voluntarily enduring the suffering of the cross and the three day burial for them.

But we do more than ascend the mountain to Paradise when we take up the work of repentance through prayer and fasting. The Good News of the Gospel is that we become partakers of the divine nature; we ourselves become strong in the might of His glorious power. (Col 1:11). In this power of the Christ who is in us, we receive the power of Christ that transfigures even our suffering into the means by which we and those around us are saved; for through our suffering, we become partakers of Christ in the victory over death of His death on the Cross.

We destroy sin and death that assail us in the trials and tribulations of this life as we engage them according to the Gospel, in the Name of Christ. That means that when we are reviled, we bless; we return cheating with honesty, injustice with justice, petulance and selfishness with the honor and dignity of Christ. In the pain and discomfort of sickness and infirmities, we give thanksgiving to God and so we defeat our selfishness, our arrogant sense of entitlement that produces depression and despair, because, in thanksgiving, the eyes of our soul open to behold the eternal glory that awaits those who submit in everything to the will of God, and who endure the sufferings of this life with patience, in love of Christ and in faithfulness to His holy commandments.

Through prayer and fasting we take up our cross and transfigure our life in this world by the power of Christ who is in us. We put to death our egotism, our conceit, our self-willfulness, and we gain our soul, cleansed, justified, illumined, sanctified, enlivened in the Spirit of Christ, clothed with Christ in the radiance of the glory of the Father, empowered by the power of Christ Himself who is in us, because it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us. Amen.