Today we read the Gospel about Jesus Christ healing the lunatic. At the very end of the reading, the Lord foretold His sufferings and death in Jerusalem (Mt. 17:14-23). The Gospel shows how strong a man can be by faith in the Lord—so strong that he can move mountains; and how ineffectual, powerless, and pitiful an unbeliever can be—for he’s but a plaything of the demons and of his own passions and those of others. It also shows the great power of prayer and fasting, when they go hand-in-hand, strengthening one another.
You see in this Gospel an unfortunate father and an unfortunate demoniac son tormented by sufferings, whom a frightful evil spirit has tormented at every new moon since birth and has often thrown into fire or into water. The father entreats mercy from the Lord, that He might heal his son, adding that the disciples of the Lord, whom he first entreated, were unable to heal him. Having rebuked and reproached them with His righteous word on unbelief and perversion, the Lord orders that the demoniac be brought to Him, and He then instantly heals him with but a rebuke.
What is a demoniac lunatic? It’s a man who is subject to the action of an evil spirit, which torments him at the new moon with insidious intent, so that people might not ascribe this evil to him, to the evil spirit, but to the wholly innocent creation of God—the moon—and thereby utter blasphemy against the Creator of the moon. This is how St. John Chrysostom interprets it.
Wicked spirits, which cause all kinds of evil for people, want to conceal their pernicious actions from people, so that they might not hate them and turn away from them and their pernicious works completely, but instead direct their slander at the wonderful and useful creation of God—the moon, the nighttime luminary. But the evil spirit cannot hide with his pernicious machinations! A man enlightened by God will recognize his wicked tricks and destroy them by the grace of God.
Unbelievers, however, are careless. They have been ensnared in his net and suffer at his hands, like the aforementioned lunatic. And how many in our age, an age of unbelief and perversion, are subject to the guile, ridicule, and malice of evil spirits! I mean all those who are subject to drunkenness, wretched and insane carnal love, or, rather, carnal passion; all so-called nihilists, who, having lost man’s most precious treasure—faith—don’t believe in the future life and in the immortality of our souls, don’t look for the resurrection of the dead and Last Judgment, don’t believe in the existence of God Himself and His eternal truth, and His formidable, incorruptible justice, and, to their bitter misfortune, don’t believe in evil spirits either. These unfortunate, deluded people, entangled in the enemies’ nets, like the demoniac in the Gospel often run to fire or water; that is, to firearms, in order to shoot themselves, or to drown or hang themselves.
And take note of what an evil craze such violent, terrible deaths are now! Every day, people either shoot themselves, drown themselves, or hang themselves—or they kill others. For many, human life isn’t even worth a penny.
What is the terrible casuse here? What terrible lever moves these pitiful people to a violent death? It is, firstly, unbelief and a depraved or perverse life; secondly, the evil demons—those killers of mankind of old. I myself have heard from many unfortunate people, prone to boozing or despondency due to some grave circumstances, that an evil demon intrusively whispers to them: “Hang yourself, hang yourself!” or “Drown yourself, drown yourself!” or “Shoot yourself, shoot yourself!” or “Kill someone!” Oh, accursed foe! How many human, Christian souls have you destroyed in the ill-fated nineteenth century by violent death through your all-devouring charm! They are to blame for being seduced by your deceit, but you are a thousand times guiltier, and you will receive retribution from the righteous Judge on the day of recompense for all your destruction.
What is the remedy against the wicked seducers, tormentors, and destroyers? Faith in Christ—Who has trampled down the power of the devil by His Cross—fasting, and prayer. Prayer and fasting purify, enlighten, and strengthen the soul; conversely, without prayer and fasting, our soul is easy prey for the devil, because it’s not shielded and protected from him. Fasting and prayer are spiritual weapons against the devil, which is why the Lord says in today’s Gospel that the demonic race comes out only by prayer and fasting. The holy Church, knowing the power of this spiritual weapon, calls us to fast twice a week—on Wednesday and Friday—by the way, this is in remembrance of the suffering and death of our Savior; and many times during all the extended fasts. And Great Lent adds special, touching penitential prayers. Fasting and prayer have this spiritual benefit that, by strengthening our souls, they strengthen faith, hope, and love in us and unite us with God.
The Lord’s reproof of His Disciple’s unbelief in today’s Gospel is remarkable. Did the Apostles also hesitate in faith at first? Yes, they were weak sometimes before the Holy Spirit descended upon them. Sometimes they believed, and sometimes they fell into unbelief and lack of faith. This should be said at least about the nine, excluding the three so-called pillars of faith: Sts. Peter, James, and John. By faith they healed all kinds of illnesses, they raised the dead, they cleansed lepers, they cast out demons; and when grace left any of them for lack of faith or unbelief, then they couldn’t cast out demons, as is mentioned in today’s Gospel. Therefore, through them, the Lord also teaches all of us to have undoubting faith, and says: If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you (Mt. 17:20).
Indeed, all those who truly believed, all the saints worked many miracles by faith; by faith the impossible became possible. Read the descriptions of their lives and you’ll see for yourself how powerful faith is! And yet the people of our age flaunt and boast of their unbelief! Is this an enlightened age? How? We owe all the successes of enlightenment in all fields to our faith, which has shed abundant light into the minds of men and into all the sciences—and yet we reject faith? Do children reject their mother, who bore them and raised them up? It’s insanity and ingratitude!
Brothers and sisters, cherish your faith! Preserve your faith. Without faith, there is no salvation. Without faith, man will perish forever.