Focus on the Lord

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Focus on the Lord
10th Sunday after Pentecost
16 August, 2009
1 Corinthians 4:9-17 ; Matthew 17:14-23

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

The healing that we see today takes place just after our Lord came down from Mount Tabor at the time of the Transfiguration. We see that people are very concerned about this boy who was in such trouble. It is necessary for us to understand clearly that not by any means does every case of epilepsy involve demonic possession – not by any means. Almost all cases of epilepsy are simply short-circuiting in the brain that can be helped by medication or by the Lord’s intervention and healing.

However, what was happening to this boy was not what we understand to be ordinary epilepsy. Demonic possession manifests itself sometimes in ways that look like epilepsy. We can tell just by what is said by the father about what is going on that this is not simply a usual case of epilepsy. When did these attacks occur ? What is happening with these attacks ? The father says to our Saviour that many times his son was thrown into the water (that is, to attempt to drown him) or thrown into the fire (that is, to attempt to burn him alive). Those are primary characteristics (there are others) by which it is clear that this is not a medically understood case of epilepsy (from which many people suffer), but this is, in fact, an attack of the devil. The attacks of the devil are geared towards getting rid of us, putting out the light of Christ in us, and (as it were) putting us to death – maybe not always physically, but certainly spiritually.

Our Saviour, knowing what is necessary, delivers the boy from the chains of the devil. The boy is restored immediately. Let us recall how the apostles ask our Saviour : “‘Why could we not cast it out?’” He replies (in effect) : “You are out of focus. If you had faith even as small as a grain of mustard seed, you could move mountains”. Then He says : “‘This kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting’”. It is not prayer and fasting necessarily that expels the devil, but it is the life of prayer and fasting that enables a person to discern where the devil is at work (and where the devil is not particularly at work). This prayer and fasting enables a person to discern right from wrong, and good from evil, and produces, by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, the ability to comprehend how things really are in our lives and in the lives of others. I think that our Lord is saying essentially to the apostles that if our heart were properly attuned to the Grace of the Holy Spirit, we would understand instantly what is the will of God, and we would be able to do His will.

One of our big problems in living our Christian lives is our attempt to do things by ourselves, much as children insist to begin on doing at about the age of three. We do not very often remember to consult the Lord first to ask Him what He wants done in this or that case. In fact, our lives really need to be focussed on the Lord all the time, and not only in particular cases. All the time, every day we need to be focussed on the Lord and asking Him : “What is Your will in this or that situation ?” This is why it was difficult for the apostles to cast out the demon that was afflicting this boy, because they were not in tune in this way with the Grace of the Holy Spirit. Their hearts were not yet formed so that they would be able to know the will of God well enough, so that they would be able to act as the Saviour acts. The Saviour acts always in love, and always in accordance with the will of the Father.

If we, too, are going to be living in accordance with the will of the Father, our lives need to be more and more united in love for the Lord, more and more focussed on the Lord so that we can accomplish His will. We need to be rooted more and more deeply in the love of Jesus Christ. Accomplishing His will in our days and in our society does not seem so often to include the expulsion of evil spirits. I wonder what that means. The acts of the devil are everywhere, and his activities against the light of Christ are everywhere. Why are we not encountering exorcisms very often in our society ? I rather think that in our society people who are so afflicted are usually medicated so thoroughly that they do not manifest the symptomatology of this, and we do not recognise it. Regardless of this sort of concern with symptomatology, my main concern is not about how frequently we are exorcising.

My main concern as a bishop is how are we loving the Lord. That is our main concern. How are we loving our Saviour ? How are we conforming our lives in love to the love of our Saviour ? How are we identifying ourselves with Him in our way of life ? If we are living lives of prayer and fasting ; if we are living lives that are cultivating the love of the Lord in our hearts, and awareness of Him at all times in our hearts, we also with the apostles, in obedience to the love of the Saviour, by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, will be able to do these things that the Lord says that we should be able to do. Let us not forget that our Lord said : “‘He who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do’” (John 14:12). He said that not only to the apostles. He says that to you and to me. By our prayers, by our faithfulness to our Saviour, the Lord can accomplish wonders amongst us, around us, and through this community. By the Grace of the Holy Spirit, by our faithfulness, the love of the Lord, His peace and His joy can be felt in this city through our witness of love and joy.

We see how the Lord loves us, how He delivers us from the chains of sin and evil, as He delivers this boy today. We see how the Lord is faithful in His promise of love and His presence with us. Let us ask Him to refresh our confidence in Him. Taking the example of the Mother of God, according to the exhortation of Saint Herman of Alaska, let us “from this day, from this hour, from this minute love God above all, and do His holy will”, and in so doing glorify the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.