St. Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church
Faith and Transfiguration

Matthew 14:22-34

St Seraphim tells us that Adam was created a living soul, he was not created dead and then brought to life, nor was he created like the animals and then raised to the image and likeness of God, but rather that “the Lord God breathed into Adam’s face the breath of life, then according to Moses’ word, Adam became a living soul, that is, completely and in every way like God, and, like Him forever immortal. Adam was immune to the action of the elements to such a degree that water could not drown him, fire could not burn him, the earth could not swallow him in its abysses and the air could not harm him by any kind of action whatever. Everything was subject to him as the beloved of God, as the king and lord of creation and everything looked up to him as the perfect crown of God’s creatures. ... There never has been a man on earth wiser or more intelligent than he …Adam could see and understand the Lord walking in paradise, and comprehend His words, and the conversation of the holy Angels, and the language of all beasts, birds and reptiles…” However all this was lost when Adam sinned. Because of his sin, he became more like the animals and became subject to the world of which he had previously been lord and master. And so, no longer was Adam immune to the action of the elements, now water could drown him, fire could burn him, the elements of the world would afflict him, animals would fear him and flee from him and could tear him. All this was lost to Adam and to all his descendents because of his sin.

But God did not abandon us entirely, but He, Himself, became incarnate, took on flesh as we have and became for us a second Adam, a new man, and opened to us the gates of paradise that by His grace we might not only regain our heritage for which we were created as the crown and lord of creation, but that we might surpass it becoming sons and heirs of God through Jesus Christ. In the Gospel over the past few weeks we see how it is that our Lord Jesus Christ, when He was bodily on the earth demonstrated His lordship over creation. Food multiplied at His command; at His word water turned into wine; at His touch, sickness and injury were banished; He walked upon the surface of the sea as if on dry land; at His word, the storm was calmed and the wind and the waves were stilled. At the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord which we celebrated just the other day, we heard how before the eyes of His closest disciples Jesus was transfigured and shone with His Heavenly glory and appeared to them in the midst of Moses and Elijah. And then descending from the mount following this revelation it was shown how even the spiritual world, personified by the demons who afflict man and who would destroy him, is subject to His command. This is Christ, this is the God Incarnate, this is the second Adam who has come into the world to pour out His grace upon us; to restore in Himself all those who would deny themselves and follow Him to their rightful place and lord and crown of creation and to adopt them as His own sons and daughters. He has come that we might have Life - His life, the life of the Holy Trinity - and that we might have it abundantly - that is in full and complete measure sufficient to transfigure each of us into His image and likeness. In the words of St Athanasius, “God has become man so that man might become god.”

How then is this transformation accomplished, how do we sinners regain our place as the king and crown of creation, how do we ascend to the heights revealed to us by Christ? The answer is given to us in the Gospel by our Lord Himself when he says to his disciples, “if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, ‘remove hence to yonder place’ and it shall move and nothing shall be impossible to you.” It is by our faith, our firm belief in Christ, that we acquire for ourselves the grace of God and are transformed into His image and likeness. The root cause then of our helplessness, the thing that holds us back is our own unbelief. The greater our faith, the greater our power to be like Christ, the less the faith, the less the power. In the Gospel today we heard how the Apostle Peter’s faith appeared at first to be strong, but then his weakness was revealed. He was bold to step out of the boat and onto the waves to walk on the water to the Lord. Everything was fine, until he took his eyes off of Christ and began to look around. Then the fear and doubt began to assail him and his faith crumbled. Peter was overcome by the wind and the waves and unbelief weakened his faith, and he began to sink. And so he called out to the Lord and Jesus was there reaching out to take his hand, to lift him up and place him back in the boat where his faith could be nurtured and could become stronger. Faith then is weakened by unbelief which is itself the result of the perversion or corruption of our created nature which in turn is the result of sin. The wages of sin is death and this death shows itself in our lives as corruption which is a state of having fallen away from God and corruption, brought about by sin, in turn produces unbelief.

Therefore this lost power, this lost nearness to God, can be regained only by faith, faith and more faith. How can we strengthen our faith and thereby overcome the sin and corruption which separate us from God. How can we heal this spiritual plague? This too our Lord answers in the Gospel, when He continues His teaching on faith. When Jesus reached out to Peter, He said to him, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” Jesus then placed Peter back in the boat, in the midst of the other apostles, symbolically in the embrace and protection of the Church, the ark of salvation. There, while he was cared for and protected, his faith could grow and become strong.

Later, when the disciples asked Jesus why it was they could not cast out a demon, he said to them, “Because of your unbelief…this kind cometh not out but by prayer and fasting.” Fasting and prayer are two pillars of faith: two living fires that burn up the evil which afflicts us. “Through fasting, all bodily passions are calmed and destroyed, especially immorality; through prayer, all other passions of the soul, heart and mind are calmed and destroyed… By fasting, the vessels of the body and soul are cleansed of their filthy contents of worldly passions and vices; by prayer, the grace of the Holy Spirit is drawn down into the empty, cleansed vessel - and the fullness of faith consists in the abiding of God’s Spirit in man…. Prayer is strengthened and extended by fasting; faith is confirmed by the one and the other - and faith moves mountains, drives out devils and makes the impossible, possible.”

The Church gives to us ample opportunity to fast - the four major fasting seasons of the year and then between those seasons on the Wednesdays and Fridays of each week. If we neglect fasting, then we neglect one of the means that our Lord has clearly established for the building up of our faith. Without fasting, it is possible to build a strong faith, but it is much much more difficult. And so we should take advantage of every opportunity that is provided to us by the Church to fast. It is one of the primary exercises by which the strength of our faith is built - and just as any exercise program benefits from a schedule to prevent too much or too little exercise (producing either harm or no benefit) so also the Church gives us a schedule of fasting - so that we avoid too much (and therefore harming ourselves) or too little (and therefore deriving no benefit.) Let us therefore endeavor to take advantage of the “exercise program” that the Church provides when she gives us opportunities to fast.

Prayer, on the other hand, is something in which we should engage constantly - as the Holy Apostle tells us, “pray without ceasing”. There are many ways in which the Church teaches us to pray without ceasing - in each case though the goal is the constant remembrance of God and His presence with us. One of the most pervasive instructions of the Holy Fathers is to learn a short prayer and to use this prayer constantly in every situation. The most common prayer that is used for this purpose is the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on me a sinner.”

This prayer can be used in all places and at all times and for any purpose whatsoever. Even in the lengthy Church services, it is very easy and convenient to say the Jesus Prayer, and to do so for prolonged periods of time. No matter your situation, when it is impossible to do anything, “exercise” yourself in the Jesus Prayer. Stand in your heart in great reverence before God, and fully realizing your complete unworthiness even to utter the name of God, pronounce the words of the prayer with attention and fear, casting yourself upon God’s mercy and condescension. The devil incessantly and in every way tries to dissuade man from this activity. One must be aware of this and fight against him, forcing oneself to say this wonderful prayer.

These two pillars of faith - prayer and fasting - lift us up to the heights of heaven and through them our faith is strengthened quickening in us the image and likeness of God. Our creation, our purpose our calling are all to ascend to the presence of God as the crown and king of creation and there to worship Him in spirit and in truth. In order to fulfill this great purpose, in order to overcome the sin which drags us down and chains us to this earth, which robs us of our birthright and of the power to become the sons of God, we must increase our faith, we must cry out, “Oh Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief”. We must build up our faith by prayer and fasting - not just as a compulsory exercise, but with zeal and purpose, in the knowledge and conviction that these things are the stepping stones by which we ascend to the Kingdom of Heaven.

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