St. John of the Ladder – Growing Faith

 4th Sun. of Lent, Ap. 3, 2022     Mark 9: 17-31    

Live audio recording of entire St. Basil’s Liturgy (homily at: 22:00 – 36:00)

Today is the 4th Sunday of Great Lent and we are celebrating St. John Climacus or Scholasticus a.k.a. St. John of the Ladder. He is best known for his rather enduring best- selling classic, “The Ladder of Divine Ascent.” Any book that stays popular for 1400 years is probably well worth checking out. As St. John has the 4th Sunday of Lent dedicated to him, I’d like to give you a little taste, so here are a few gems from the 10th step (Slander)….

9.)        “Listen to me all you malicious reckoners of other men’s accounts! If it is true (as it really is true) that (Luke 6:37) ‘with what judgement you judge, you shall be judged’, then whatever sins we blame our neighbour for, whether bodily or spiritual, we shall fall into them ourselves. That is certain.

14.)      “To judge others is a shameless arrogation of the Divine prerogative; to condemn is the ruin of one’s soul.”  “Do not condemn, even if you see with your eyes, for they are often deceived.”

Today’s Gospel follows as Christ is coming down from Mount Tabor with Peter, James, and John, having just experienced the wonder of the Transfiguration. The other nine apostles were left behind while Christ went up the mountain to be transfigured and converse with His Father, Moses, and Elijah. They are struggling and not able to cast out the demon afflicting the lad who had been brought to them by his desperate father. They had cast out evil spirits earlier, returning from being sent by Christ along with the 70 full of joy saying, (Luke 10:17): “Lord even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” So, Christ seems a little frustrated with their lack of faith and exclaims “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you?”

From this exchange we can learn not to be so sensitive about receiving criticism. Typically, if someone we know and love deeply said to us “how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you?” our first reaction would be offended or even wounded at the criticism. After all its hard on our precious pride. But our pride is the last thing we need to protect. Notice how the apostles react, at first chance they ask Christ privately “Why could we not cast it out?” We would do well to follow the apostle’s example. Instead of defending ourselves when criticized, nurturing our wounded pride, we could with humility, quietly ask God to show us the truth of the criticism and to forgive and heal us. Glory to God for these opportunities to grow! Let us look forward to our next insult!

However, the main point of this passage on the reluctant demon would be to demonstrate the great importance of “faith.” Even Jesus could do no great works when strong skepticism was in place in His hometown, and He marvelled at the power of their negative thoughts. Mark (6:1-6) tells us that “He could do no mighty work there except that He laid His hand on a few sick people and healed them. And He marvelled because of their unbelief.” Remember He has given us free will. Of course He could overturn this and impose His will, but He works in synergy with us. God respects this while we are here on earth, working out our salvation. No one will be found in hell that does not choose to be there. Our thoughts are enormously powerful affecting the whole environment around us, for good or for evil.

Elder Thaddeus in “Our Thoughts Determine our Lives” puts it well.

“Everything both good and evil comes from our thoughts. Our thoughts become reality. Even today we can see all of creation, everything that exists on earth and in the cosmos, is nothing but Divine thought made material in time and space. We humans were created in the image of God. Mankind was given a great gift, but we hardly understand that. God’s energy is life in us, but we do not realize it. Neither do we understand that we greatly influence others with our thoughts. We can be very good or very evil, depending on the kind of thoughts and desires we breed. If our thoughts are kind, peaceful, and quiet, turned only toward good, then we also influence ourselves and radiate peace all around us – in our family, in the whole country, everywhere…”

In today’s Gospel, Christ is upset at the apostles because of their lack of faith. When asked for a solution Jesus tells His apostles “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.” Prayer and fasting (along with almsgiving and scripture reading) are the main tools we are given to cultivate, to transform our negative and unruly thoughts into faith. Paul tells us in Romans (10:17) “So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” So we need to saturate our minds and hearts with God’s word, to read our bible, read the lives of the saints, hang with our brothers and sisters and encourage each other in spiritual conversations. Then we can begin to resist the “spirit of this world” and develop clear vision. We are told (Romans 12:2,3), “not to be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” and that “…God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.” We are all given a measure of faith for us to cultivate and grow, like planting a tiny seed and watching it grow into a great plant as we nurture it. Attending Church, prayer, fasting, alms giving, and scripture reading are the water sunshine, and fertilizer needed to nurture and grow our little seed of faith into a great and beautiful tree.

All through history it is shown over and over that seeing signs and wonders is not the recipe for increased faith. Peter denies Him 3 times, Judas betrays Him, Cleopas and Luke walk with Christ on the day after His resurrection. He shows them how all the Old Testament scriptures are revealing Him, and yet, don’t recognize it is Christ until He reveals Himself in the blessed bread. He then disappears leaving them with His presence in the blessed bread and establishing His continuous presence here on earth in the Eucharist. Faith is a gift from God and the way to increased faith is to pray and humbly ask Him for it and to receive His very body and blood in the eucharist. Then we need to walk in the faith He has already given us. We receive this gift as our intellectual understanding becomes true faith – deep in our heart. Our heart is the organ of spiritual sensitivity where we see, hear, feel and taste and see that God is good! Prayer and fasting gives us wings, enabling us to encounter and perceive God in our heart.

Learning to see reality from God’s perspective in all things is a most blessed undertaking which will bring us much peace in the middle of the ongoing confusion and uncertainty of our daily earthly journey.

When I was ordained a priest, Archbishop Irénée placed his hands upon me and prayed “The grace divine, which always heals that which is infirm, and completes that which is wanting, elevates through the laying on of hands Andrew the most devout Deacon to be a Priest. Therefore let us pray for him, that the grace of the all-holy Spirit may come upon him.”  I trust through the faith that God has granted, that this occurred and will continue to be accomplished, through your prayers and the ineffable wonder-working grace of our most precious Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, His glory be forever! I confess, I sometimes have a tough time comprehending how this works out in some situations. But we fall down and get up, this is the journey, as long as we continue to get up we are stumbling towards the kingdom!

“I believe God, help my unbelief” is the cry of the father with heartfelt tears. Jesus tells him that “all things are possible to him that believes.” This is also our prayer. As we bring whatever faith we have and present it to our Lord, we ask him to increase it and complete it, and He is faithful to come and grant our desire. In this time where many around us are captured by fear, let us ask God that our firm faith may be a healing balm to all we meet. For we know that no matter what the circumstances of our lives, that “God is with us!”

Good struggle my brothers and sisters!