Sermon for the Second Sunday of Great Lent | Russian Oldbeliever Church

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Sermon for the Second Sunday of Great Lent

During the past two weeks of Great Lent and in the course of the preparation for it, the Holy Church urged us to look deeper into our souls and understand what we need to repent of, look into our life in order to determine what needs to be changed in it. The Lord through His Gospel urges us: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:2). The Kingdom of God is not only at hand, it must enter into us: “the Kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21), says the Lord. The Kingdom of Heaven must enter into us, filling us with the grace of the Holy Spirit, eradicating all authority and power of the enemy, overcoming sinful inclinations in those who try to live according to the law of God.

Saint Gregory Palamas writes in his homily for the second Sunday of Great Lent: “So, since the Kingdom of God is at hand, let us make ourselves worthy of it by the works of repentance, let us make an effort over ourselves, rejecting evil wills and habits; for the Kingdom of Heaven is taken by force and those who make efforts seize it. Let us be zealous in imitating patience, humility and the very faith of the God-bearing fathers, let us put to death our members which are on earth: fornication, uncleanness, passions, evil lusts and greed – especially in these holy days of Lent.” When we are going to fast and pray, let us be full of love for each other; if we had something unkind against each other, let us forgive and with good deeds and words restore peace and harmony, so that we can boldly repeat the words of the prayer: “Father… forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matt. 6:12).

Let us try, brethren, to make our fasting and prayer not fruitless. Let us not succumb to the suggestion of the wicked one, who persuades us to pray with carelessness and vanity of the Pharisees. Therefore, the Lord teaches us: “Go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6: 6). The Lord says this not because He commands us to turn away from the common congregational prayer, otherwise He would not have said through the lips of the prophet: “I will give back my prayers before those who fear You, O Lord” (Ps. 22:25) and “in the midst of an assembly I will sing a hymn to you (Ps. 22:22) – the Lord encourages us to participate in the prayer that is performed in the Church as well.

Let not our prayer and fasting be for the sight of people who would glorify us for praying and fasting, thereby depriving us of our reward for the labours and perseverance in fasting. The Lord urges us not to expect praise from people for our temperance, as the Pharisees did, but, on the contrary, to wash our face, to anoint our heads with oil, not to be sad and gloomy. Saint Gregory Palamas speaks sublimely about this call: “Here, head should be understood as the head of the soul, that is, our mind. Make it merciful. And wash our “face”, that is, imagination, from shameful and unclean thoughts, anger and all that is evil ”.

Calling us to solitude and concentration during the days of fasting, the Lord turns us onto the path of knowing the measure of our sinfulness and readiness for repentance. For this, it is necessary to avoid vain entertainment that can agitate our soul, muddying it with sinful images and passions. During the days of fasting we should especially avoid watching TV and everything that brings confusion and temptation into our soul, distracting it from prayer and contemplation.

One holy ascetic, discussing the importance of solitude, explained it with the following example. If you pour water into a vessel and disturb it, then, looking into the water, we will not see our reflection. But if the water has settled, then, looking into the vessel, we will see our face, as in a mirror. A similar thing happens to a person: when he is in the midst of other people, it is more difficult for him to see his sins because of the constant communication that disturbs him. When he retires into solitude, he will see his sins. Hoping for the mercy of the Lord, let us go to Him with repentance, asking Him for forgiveness, having in our hearts a sincere and firm desire to refrain from sins in the future with all our might and correct our lives. Without this intention, our repentance will not be true, for, in forgiving sinners, the Lord requires an inner change from them. In the Gospel, Christ, having forgiven the sins of the paralytic and healed him from his illness, said: “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you,” that is, so that it will not be even worse for him than before.

The Apostle, instructing us on the path of salvation, urges to arrange our souls in such a way that we could say like him, “the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14). The world, about which the apostle speaks, is everything sinful, passionate, ungodly, everything external, where the enemy of the human race rules. The one who wants to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God (Jam. 4:4). There are two sides to every sin, one is sinful deeds and the other is sinful thoughts, attachments and inclinations, which are the source and cause of many sinful deeds. When we abandon the sinful deeds, then the world with its passions and temptations is crucified for us, and when we extinguish and eradicate sinful thoughts and habits in ourselves, then we crucify sin. Sometimes it happens that we have retired from sinful deeds, but our hearts continue to be attracted by sinful habits, which means that before God we are still lovers of sin, for God looks not only at our deeds, but also at our hearts. If we correct our sinful behaviour, then we do not need to stop there, but we must go inside ourselves and correct our heart, extinguishing bad inclinations and passions in it. Then God, who sees our heart, will strengthen and justify us. When, with God’s help, we reach such a state that we will not only stop to do sinful deeds, but extinguish the very predilection to them in ourselves, then we will be able to say, “The world has been crucified to me, and I to the world”.

Today’s Gospel narrates: “And they came, bringing to him” – to the place where Jesus was preaching – “a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay.” Seeing this, the Lord heals the paralytic, saying to him: “rise, take up your pallet and go home” (Mark 2:3-9). Perhaps the Lord did all this thanks to the help of the four friends of the paralytic. The friends brought this man to Christ because they loved and pitied him, therefore their faith and desire made the miracle of healing possible. Out of love for their sick friend these people brought him to where Christ was, they were not stopped either by the crowd or by the obstacles. In this act we see the image of love for our neighbours and faith in God’s help, to which we are called.

Often we turn to each other with a request, “pray for me,” and it seems to us that this is very easy to do. But we should remember that when a person asks for our prayer, he is actually asking us to stand between God and him, become his intercessor, bear his infirmities, and this obliges us to do much more than just say the words of prayer. Christ, who entered the world where many people, being in sin, were against Him, took upon Himself all the hatred of the world, all sin, and died on the Cross in the name of love for us, to atone for our falling away from God. By His sacrifice He united, reconciled God and man, putting His hand on the shoulder of a lost and repentant slave and bringing him to the Father’s house as His brother. The Lord commands us to do the same. When we pray for someone, we intercede for that person, applying the labour and effort of our prayer, in the image of Christ who sacrificed himself for the human race. Today’s Gospel teaches us that our faith must become the unifying force that, through love and labour, leads our neighbours into the Kingdom of God.

Let us now turn to the paralytic himself. Since he had his mind, although his body was paralyzed, it seems that the miracle of healing took place on the basis of his good hope and faith. Perhaps his illness was the reason for his conversion to the Lord and salvation, for often, when we are healthy, we do not look for ways to meet the Lord. Illness sometimes contributes to salvation by dulling a person’s urge to sin and evil. Enduring the suffering associated with illness, a person, as it were, pays a debt for committed sins, thereby cleansing, healing his soul, and then his body as well. The Lord, when the paralytic let down to His feet, says to him, “Child, your sins are forgiven.” Having forgiven the sins of the paralytic, He thereby heals his soul. Let us take note that the Lord calls the paralytic a child, thus making him the son of the Heavenly Father, connecting him with the sinless God. The Lord showed that sins are the cause of illness, and therefore it is necessary first of all to remove the cause of illness – sin – from one’s soul, and then the illness, that is, the disastrous effect on the body of the consequences of sin, also ends.

To see the perniciousness of an action caused by sin, we should know what sin is. Sin is a snare by which the devil catches our will, for the Holy Scripture says, “He who commits sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning” (1 John 3:8). With this snare he entangled and seduced the first man, Adam. The devil has extended the power of this snare to all humankind, seducing it with sinful sweetness. Our soul in sin is like a bird caught in a net; it cannot free itself from it as long as the net is strong. The only means of salvation is repentance, confession of sins, freeing oneself from sinful attachment and turning to God. Then the power of the devil is terminated, and our soul, freed from captivity, is received into the mercy and love of God. Sin is the barrier that separates us from God. Sometimes this barrier is high and impregnable. It has been raised up by our sins as a kind of prison into which we have imprisoned ourselves. But if in fasting and prayer we cry out from the bottom of our soul to the Lord: “Bring my soul out of the prison” (Ps. 142:7), then the Lord will open the gates of this prison, freeing the repentant prisoner by the grace of His sacrifice on the cross.

The scribes, hearing the words of the Lord about the forgiveness of sins to the paralytic, thought in their hearts: “Why does this Man speak such blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mk. 2:7) Indeed, none of the people can forgive sins. That was exactly the error of the Pharisees that they considered Christ to be a simple man and did not see in Him the almighty God. The Lord deliberately speaks about the forgiveness of sins during healing, so that everyone would know that His Word is not ineffective, and that He, possessing the Divine authority, is able to heal from illness, at the same time granting the remission of sins. Thus, the people saw wonderful and glorious deeds, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” – and glorified the Lord. We can see and know much more than the eyewitnesses of that miracle. We know about performing of healings by the disciples of Christ only by calling on His name. Therefore, let us be healed by repentance and striving for the Divine virtue. Saint Gregory Palamas writes, “For anyone who indulges in pleasures is paralyzed in soul, lies on the bed of voluptuousness, with the corresponding paralyzed licentiousness of the body. But when, having repented, he triumphs over his sin and over the paralysis of the soul generated by it, then he is being brought to the Lord by these four: contempt for himself, confession of sins, promise to refrain from evil in the future and prayer to God.” These are our four friends on the saving path of the Fast: the awareness of our sinfulness, repentance in confession, the desire to no longer commit this sin, and prayer. Further on, Saint Gregory writes, “But these four friends cannot approach God, unless they uncover the roof, scattering the tiles, clay and other material. The roof of us is the rational part of the soul, as it covers everything in us; it contains in itself, as it were, the great amount of the piled-up material related to passions and to the earthly.” We must remove this roof of worldly attachments and passions, so that our soul draws closer to the Lord, to fall at His feet in humility and repentance, asking for healing.

Looking into ourselves diligently, we can see the impurity and corruption of our soul, the stench and impurity of our heart, then we will understand that our sins remove us from the Lord, for your sins, as the prophet Isaiah says, “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you” (Is. 59:2). Let us turn in our repentance to the One from Whom we have moved away, Whom we have offended and angered by our sins, and, bowing with tears of repentance at His feet, cry out: I have sinned against You, O Lord, have mercy on me according to your great mercy; forgive me according to your grace and mercy. And if our repentance comes from a pure heart, then we have the hope that God will accept it, forgive and blot out our sins and iniquities by His grace, for He is long-suffering and his mercy is great, and there is no sin that overcomes His great love for mankind.

Let us ask the Lord for help in our intention to resist sin in the future, since we can overcome sin only by a prolonged struggle with it, constant resistance to it. Let our good intention to fight sin take root in ourselves through reading the Holy Scriptures, fasting, prayer, and visiting the church of God. Let us not return to the sin of which we repented, so as not to become like Lot’s wife, who looked back at the city of sin she left behind and, as a punishment for that, became a pillar of salt. Let us fear God’s condemnation for returning to sinful temptations, let us stand before God with fear, turning to Him in prayer, refraining from sinful aspirations with all our might, taming our flesh with its passions and lusts, bringing God fruits worthy of repentance, and changing our way of life for the better, so that the Lord, seeing our striving and efforts on the path of repentance, deigns us the great grace – the communion of the Holy Mysteries of His Body and Blood, bestows upon us the healing of our mental and physical ailments and makes us worthy to enter our true Home – the Heavenly Abode, where the Heir and Giver of all blessings, our Lord Jesus Christ, awaits us.