Sixth Sunday After Pentecost
In the Gospel reading for today we hear the account of the healing of the paralytic. Our Lord Jesus Christ had just returned to Capernaum from the country of the Gergesenes, where he had healed the men possessed by demons. A small crowd awaited Him upon His return and brought to Him this man who was sick and paralyzed by his illness. This sick man’s friends cared for him and had faith that Jesus Christ could heal him. It is interesting and important to note that the Gospel indicates that when Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, ‘Son, be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven thee’. Whose faith was Christ responding to? Our Lord was recognizing and honoring the faith not just of the man who was sick, but primarily of those who loved him and brought him before the Lord. Their faith and their efforts on behalf of their friend mattered… God recognized and responded to the love and faith of those who brought the sick man before Him, and through their intercessions, Christ granted the sick man healing of soul and body.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ… This is an incredibly important lesson for us! It is very easy to become discouraged in our spiritual life – questioning whether our efforts to pray, to fast, to strive to do good, and to put a restraint on our sinfulness… we may sometimes wonder whether all this matters or not.
Well, as today’s Gospel reading helps to illustrate… yes, your faith does matter! In fact, your faith has implications and influence upon the rest of the world. Every day, every hour, every moment… our thoughts, words, and deeds have ripple effects upon all of creation. There is not one good deed, one prayer, one sigh unto God that does not contribute to the good. And, likewise, there is not one judgment of another, one evil word or glance that does not contribute to all that is wrong in this world.
It is important for us to recognize this connectedness of all things. Do we see trouble in the world? Do we see the love of many growing cold? Do we see, as Archimandrite Gerasim of Alaska called it, ‘the love of God evaporating from this earth’? If we see these things, and if we are concerned about them… then let us not wring our hands in despair, let us not harden our heart in bitterness or discouragement about the way things are going… Let us take a lesson from the Gospel - when the people brought their concern before the Lord, He saw their intercessory faith, and He responded with mercy and compassion.
St John of Kronstadt wrote the following: ‘Do not let pass any opportunity to pray for anyone, either at his request or at the request of his relatives, friends, of those who esteem him, or of his acquaintances. The Lord looks favorably upon the prayer of our love, and upon our boldness before him. Besides this, prayer for others is very beneficial to the one himself who prays for others; it purifies the heart, strengthens faith and hope in God, and enkindles our love for God and our neighbor.’
It is clear that God calls us to pray for one another, for this is the expression of a heart and mind which are being transformed into the likeness of Christ. And it is also clear, as St John of Kronstadt tells us, that our prayers for others are not only the expression of Christ-like love, but are the active ingredients in further obtaining that Christ-like love.
How might we pray for one another?
In our private prayers in the morning and in the evening, we should take some time to pray for others. And throughout the day, as the thoughts of others might come to us, we should respond with a prayer for their well-being. During the day, as we encounter people both known and unknown to us, we do well to look upon them with blessings and prayers. And certainly, if we find ourselves tempted by judgment or irritation toward another person, we should immediately counter such thoughts with prayer for the soul of the person we may have judged.
There may be times when we struggle to pray. We may be downcast and unmotivated… such spiritual slumps are part of the Christian struggle. One of the things we can do in such a state is to make a list of those who might need our prayers: the sick, the suffering, the forgotten, and anyone else for whom we wish to pray. Gathering that list and beginning to pray for others is often times easier and more motivating than praying for ourselves. And such prayers are so necessary and so important!
Of course, when we come to Church, we have the opportunity to pray for others as well. Placing a candle in supplication for another is a very important and effective means of prayer. And placing the names of our Orthodox Christian brothers and sisters on the commemoration lists and offering a prosphora on their behalf is probably the most profound means of intercession available to us. Those names of our Orthodox loved ones, both living and dead, are read by the clergy and particles are taken from the prosphora bread and placed on the plate. At the end of the Divine Liturgy, after the people have received Holy Communion, those particles are poured into the Chalice with the words: ‘By Thy precious Blood, O Lord, wash away the sins of those here commemorated, through the prayers of Thy saints.’
Interceding for one another in prayer is an essential part of our Christian life. And that intercession for one another can, and should, also take the form of actions and sacrifices for one another. Having our hearts and our eyes open to see where we can be of help to one another, and then rolling up our sleeves and doing something… this is another way in which we intercede for each other. Sometimes such sacrifices may not be specifically doing something for another, but rather not doing something or not saying something which would harm our brother or sister. These quiet and unrecognized forms of self-sacrifice and care for another are important as well.
Our Lord Jesus Christ looked upon the intercessions of those who brought the paralytic to Him and was moved to compassion by their love for their brother. Let us call upon the compassion of our Lord by our intercessions for one another. For, as the Apostle Paul exhorts us: if we bear one another’s burdens, we thus fulfill the law of Christ.