Updated: Apr 20, 2021
It was great to gather and sing to the Lord this morning at the Divine Liturgy! Like so many parishes, we now begin to reconstitute our congregations as we continue our way through to the end of the Pandemic! Welcome back!
As we consider the Gospel of Mark, chapter 9 and verses 17 to 31, this 4th Sunday of Lent, we reflect on the the Ladder of Divine Ascent, a text by St. John Climacus.
Consider that all Christians struggle to have faith and live from faith and like the disciples, often our hold on faith is tenuous. What do we actually believe about Christ our savior? Some of us fall and get up in life from the faith they have, while others fall and stay fallen in life when their faith is tested, and still others fall and decide that they will not fall again nor will have to get up again when their faith is tempted and even taken by the things of this world.
The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed much about humanity. The last 18 months has been very trying for us all - some have even lost their lives. This last year we have had to review what our faith is and amend our practices somewhat. As we think of the Epistle reading for today, for example, we see that Abraham could have believed and decided to give up the faith based on a promise that is fulfilled many, many years later in his life!
Faith is a choice, It is what we go to Church to express but, it is far more than this, in that, faith is the basis for how we are to live. The COVID-19 Pandemic has given all of us a way to see our faith in a new light. This light of introspection is illuminated by the reality that for months, many were unable to attend church, worship together, or even sing to the Lord. Moreover, the prohibitions directed by the government were received by all in very different ways - some good, some not so good.
The pandemic is a struggle as is having faith. True faith, as penned in the book of Hebrews, is "the substance of things hoped for, form the evidence of things not seen". This is the faith that Christ calls us to have in Him because this is the faith He has in and from the Father...and as we know it was tested! In today's gospel, if you will, the disciples demonstrated a failure of faith as we all do, from time to time. For more than a year many people could not go or be seen in Church, nor take part in the faith life our Holy Orthodox Church, as we all wanted. Did this shake our faith? Did this pandemic change our belief?
In the icon of the Ladder of Divine Ascent, we see Christ at the top of Ladder (which has 30 rungs), We struggle to move from one rung to next and in that struggle, we are contested by the demons, working to prevent us from reaching Christ. Do we have the humility to confess to Christ as the Father of the possessed boy does in his statement, "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief"? Today, we are asked to believe, as the as Father of the boy does, with faith, humility and dare I say, the reality of the doubt that may also be present with us. Christ healed the Father's son based on his confession - based on his faith. Our struggles in life are just as real as the Father of the possessed boy's - we know that. Is our faith just a real? Let us all reflect on this and let us all be wary of religiosity, especially during Lent and beyond!
What is religiosity? It can be defined as "the quality of being very or too religious, or reminding you of religious behavior, [often in a way that is judgmental or arrogant]". Can you be too be religious? Not really. Yet, can one behave and act with fervent religiosity? Yes. Religiosity may be a soothing balm for us on the surface but, it may speak and say very little about the faith we may or may not have in and from our believe in Christ.
In today's Gospel reading, the disciples are rebuked mightily as faithless. Why? They were given the power to heal and cast out demons and found themselves inadequate to the task when a man brings his boy to them to be healed. The disciples failed. Do we fail? Yes. And, we too have Christ with us and have the power to try and try again and be in the struggle and move through the struggle that would take us to Him. Do we try?
The truth of the matter is that our faith in our Lord, Jesus Christ is the required pre-condition for the power of God to be and work in our lives.
As we continue our Lenten journey, consider that there are 30 rungs on the Ladder. How many Lenten journeys have you experienced in your life, 20, 30, 90, 1? I can certainly say that some Lenten times have gone better than others - that's for sure! And, it is clear that, religiosity will never be the way to move from one rung to another, faith is. No matter how many Lenten seasons God gives us, 20, 30, 90 or just 1, we must endeavor to increase our faith and move toward Him, one rung at a time, This is the way to move up to Christ, who waits on us and we pray and fast to help us get to and stay with Him, every year. Let us do our best to not waste our time, since Christ is with us!
And, let us work to have and hold our faith, a hope that rests in the His love of us from the top to the bottom of all the Ladders in life, especially the one that takes us to Him. Amen.
(Icon scene from Mark 9: 17-31)