4th Sunday in Great Lent - (Memory of Saint John of the Ladder)

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Keeping our Focus on the Lord
(Memory of Saint John of the Ladder)
4th Sunday in Great Lent
6 April, 2008
Hebrews 6:13-20 ; Mark 9:17-31

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Today, we are keeping the memory of Saint John of the Ladder, and tomorrow comes the Feast of the Annunciation (old style). It is a blessing for us that these two commemorations come close together like this. As we heard this morning, God made promises to us. These promises began when Adam and Eve fell in the Garden of Eden. They broke, by their disobedience, the perfect communion between them and their Creator. After this, we human beings could not possibly by ourselves restore this communion between ourselves and God. God promised that He would in due time provide the way.

It is important for you and for me always to remember this. When Adam and Eve were disobedient, it is not that they were breaking the Law – they broke love ; they broke trust which goes with love. They listened to the Liar below, and this is what broke communion. They turned in on themselves. If you recall, their first action after they fell was to try to hide from God because, as they admitted, they were afraid. Fear is never from the Lord God ; it comes from below. I do not need to repeat the whole story of Adam and Eve.

Today, we have a reminder that God revealed Himself to Abraham with the same love as He did at the beginning of Creation. God always reveals Himself as love. He appeared to Abraham, and He said : “'I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly'” (1 Moses [Genesis] 17:2). The multiplication of his descendants was for the purpose of communicating the Lord’s love to the whole world. However, as human beings keep doing, the descendants of Abraham began to forget what is their purpose. In the end, it seems that for the Israelites, it was enough for them to say : “'Abraham is our father'” (John 8:39). Nevertheless, even though they became weak, and even though they became forgetful, God did not forget His Promise. He sent His Only-begotten Son, about whom we have already been singing this morning. He is the One who speaks everything into being – and He did this through the Virgin Mary. She said “yes”, and her whole life was saying “yes” to the love of God. Where Adam and Eve were weak, by God’s Grace she was strong.

Because of this loving obedience, the Mother of God is still strong for us today. It is her veil that is protecting us from harm. What is the meaning of this veil? It means that she is protecting us with the love of God. In everything in her life, she always did, and she always does point to Christ. In almost every icon of the Theotokos which we see, she is pointing to her Son (there are a few of her by herself). She is always drawing our attention to her Son. She is saying to you and to me : He is the Way. He, Himself, said this in the Gospel : “'I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life'” (John 14:6).

These are most important words for you and me always to remember. He is the Way. What is this way ? It is the way of self-emptying love – love which is patient above all ; love which accepts betrayal and yet still loves. Let us notice that the apostles (we will see it soon again) ran away because of fear. Our Saviour, in His love for them, goes after them and brings them back. He renews them and strengthens them. He fills them with the Holy Spirit. What He does with those apostles, He does with you and me also. We fall ; we fail ; we betray, and still our Saviour waits for us. He opens doors for us. He sends people to us to straighten us out. It is important always to remember this love.

Today, when we are talking about the ladder of divine ascent, that ladder which is described by Saint John, the Abbot of Sinai, it is very important for us to remember that we do not climb this ladder by ourselves. We do not find some secret way to take step after step after step up to the Kingdom of Heaven. When we look at the icon of the ladder, we can will see at the top, in Heaven, Christ Himself, blessing. This ladder leads to Christ ; it leads to the Kingdom of Heaven. On this ladder there are people climbing up towards Him, and the people who are climbing up the ladder have their eyes on Him. They have their eyes on Him as the Apostle Peter had his eyes on our Saviour when he walked on the water. On the side of this ladder there are little black figures that are pulling people off the ladder. These are the tempters. They try to pull people off by distracting them, and we can see in this icon that there are people falling off as a result.

It is crucial for you and for me to remember this in our lives. When we take our eyes off the Lord, when we look anywhere else except at the Lord, we will fall. It always happens. I have plenty of experience, myself. However, mercifully, because God is love, because He loves us and is patient with us, as Saint John says, himself, if I fall down to the bottom again, it is possible for me to begin again. This is the most important thing. Truly, we fall. God knows that we fall. However, He loves us, and He encourages us to go back and start up again. He wants you and me to be with Him in the Kingdom. When the Apostle Peter sank in the water because he saw the wind and the waves ; he was distracted from our Lord, and he became afraid. Nevertheless, because of his love for our Saviour, he recovered ; he remembered the Lord, and he remembered to say : “'Lord, save me'” (Matthew 14:30). Our Lord stretched His hand out, and Peter took that hand. Then the apostle was again able with confidence, with his eyes on the Lord, to stand with our Saviour on the water. We, as we are passing through our lives, are passing through all sorts of temptations and stormy waters. This is the way for every human being. However, as long as we keep the eyes of our heart focussed on Jesus Christ, our Saviour, we will stand on the water with Him, just as did the Apostle Peter.

As a reinforcement for us of Who is exactly Jesus Christ, today, in the Gospel reading, we are given the healing, the deliverance of the young boy possessed by a demon. We can tell in this Gospel that it is not just epilepsy, because what happened in the case of this little boy is the same thing that happens always when evil is in the presence of the love of God. The Evangelist Mark tells us that, when this boy comes into the presence of our Saviour, the demon sees Christ, and he immediately convulses the boy and tries to kill him in the same way that his father described had happened previously. Every time our Saviour comes into the presence of someone who is possessed by evil (we see it throughout the Gospels), the darkness cannot stand it, and there is always a violent reaction. Our Saviour always intervenes and saves. Today, we are seeing that He delivers the boy from slavery to the demon ; He restores him to perfect health ; He comforts his parents, and He gives glory to God. Yesterday, we saw our Saviour healing the deaf and dumb person (see Mark 7:31-37).

The Lord brings life and healing love wherever He is. As He has done for them, He does now for you and for me. We must look to Him. We must follow the direction of the Mother of God, and like her, run to her Son. We must allow Him to help us. We must allow Him to throw away the fear that troubles us. We must allow Him to fill our hearts with the love which accompanies His peace, so that His love permeates us entirely. Thus, as we bring within us His life, we will bring His love and His life to everyone and everything around us. In so doing, by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, everything about our lives will glorify our Saviour Jesus Christ, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.