The Anchor Of The Soul

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark. (9:17-31)

In today’s gospel we are given a glimpse into the reality of the spiritual realm and the power of demons. This is not superstition although modern western thinkers may claim it to be so. How do we know that this is not mere superstition? Because Our Lord Jesus Christ engaged with this phenomenon clearly and decisively on multiple occasions. The Lord never lied to us, not once. He has always taught His disciples the truth. So He interacts with the world as one who has x-ray vision. He sees beyond our ability to see. This theme is picked up in popular culture in movies like the Matrix. The main character “Neo” is considered to be “the one.” He is seen as a Messiah-like figure. We see many themes in this sci-fi movie but it becomes really interesting once we are given a glimpse into his expanded knowledge and ability to see what “normal people cannot see.”

Likewise, Christ our Lord sees things that are not easily apprehended by most of us. The reasons why we barely recognize demonic encounters and issues are many but one of the main reasons is because the job of the demons is to distract us away from prayer by any means necessary. But most of the demons are now standing in the unemployment line because the smartphones and the computers have been far more efficient and effective at distracting us and keeping us from prayer.

Nevertheless we see that the demons in this gospel passage are powerful. They can take an otherwise healthy young boy and cause him to lose control of his own body and mind. They can cause him to fall, to convulse with seizures and to move unwillingly towards things that are dangerous. If the demons have this ability, can we imagine how much they do to us with subtle thoughts and fantasies and desires that quietly work on us hour after hour and day after day? They are experts at warfare and they learned that if one way doesn’t produce results, there is always time to change methods and tactics and try other avenues of attack. The demons are powerful but they lose much of their power over us when we are baptized and brought into the Church. They continue to stay at a distance and their attacks are very weak when we are active with our participation in confession and communion. I don’t say these things to you because I want you to participate in them. I am saying them to you because this is the truth as witnessed and explained by the holy tradition and the saints of the Church for two millennia.

But guess what else the saints have said for nearly 2000 years? That two of the most powerful acts that we can undertake against the demonic warfare are fasting coupled with prayer. The demons are powerful, but baptized sons and daughters of God are much more powerful especially when they faithfully combine prayer and fasting. It is for this reason that our Lord Jesus says to the disciples “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting.” This is a spiritual reality that applies to us. Perhaps we have some serious problems with anger or lust. Perhaps we have addictions to things like alcohol or food or pornography. All of these illnesses require the therapy of fasting coupled with prayers. Slowly, through such practices, we become more human.

St. Theophan the recluse writes,

“If this kind goes out by the prayer and fasting of another person, then it is even less able to enter one who fasts and prays. What protection! Although there are a slew of demons and all the air is packed with them, they cannot do anything to one who is protected by prayer and fasting. Fasting is universal temperance, prayer is universal communication with God; the former defend from the outside, whereas the latter from within directs a fiery weapon against the enemies. The demons can sense a faster and man of prayer from a distance, and they run far away from him so as avoid a painful blow.”

Now we shouldn’t think that fasting only applies to the type of food we eat, we should note that the saints and fathers of the Church tells us that the amount is as important at the type of food we eat, perhaps more so. St. John Cassian writes,

“A clear rule for self-control handed down by the Fathers is this: stop eating while still hungry and do not continue until you are satisfied. When the Apostle said, ‘Make no provision to fulfill the desires of the flesh’ (Rom. 13:14), he was not forbidding us to provide for the needs of life; he was warning us against self-indulgence.” -On the Eight Vices

But we don’t undertake these practices out of a sense of obligation or for some ulterior motives, or even to gain specific spiritual gifts. It is all with the goal of having communion and fellowship with the Holy Trinity. St. Seraphim of Sarov writes,

“Fasting, prayer, alms, and every other good Christian deed is good in itself, but the purpose of the Christian life consists not only in the fulfillment of one or another of them. The true purpose of our Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God.”

— St. Seraphim of Sarov, Conversation on the Goal of the Christian Life

In fasting we imitate our Lord Jesus Christ who Himself fasted for our sakes. He succeeded and showed us that our path is not dreadful in this spiritual warfare, but according to the words of St. Paul, we “have a strong consolation, we, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope that is set before us; a hope, which we have as an anchor of the soul,” through the works and the mercy and love of our Lord Jesus Christ who was victorious for us. May He alone be blessed with the Father and the Holy Spirit AMEN.

Source: Sermons