In the name of the Father, and the son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. Today we commemorate St. Anthony the Great, and we also read about the blind man of whom Jesus said, "Thy faith hath saved thee".(1)
How do we know he had faith besides that the Lord said so? We could see his faith very well by four things. First of all, when he heard that someone was coming, he heard the multitude, he said, "Who's here?" and when they said, "Jesus," the man showed his faith. He said, "Jesus, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me." That shows that the man knew Him to be the Messiah, because it had been prophesied that the Messiah would be from the loins of David. He is crying out, "Jesus, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me," and the multitude is saying, "Be quiet," trying to shut him up.
But he keeps crying: another sign of the man's faith. And then, when the Lord is made aware of the commotion and has the man come before Him, and stand before Him, and says, "What do you want Me to do?" he showed his faith by asking simply and forthrightly for what he needed, what he desired. And the Lord told him, "Thy faith hath saved thee." And he received his sight. And then, yet another sign of his faith, what did he do after his healing? He went and followed Him and glorified God.
Now. Do we have this sort of faith, brothers and sisters? This man was blind in his eyes, but certainly not in his soul. But we, unfortunately, have it the opposite way. We see with our eyes, but we don't see very well with our souls. We don't recognize the God-man as Messiah and as King and Lord in everything we do, everything we are, both in our weaknesses and in our strengths. We are too forgetful.
The multitude told him to be quiet. Who was the multitude? Well, in this case, it was probably some well-meaning people, probably the apostles among them. But it also means, the rabble, the crowd, the demons, the world. The world says what we do is crazy. The rabble, the crowd tells us we are not "open-minded" enough. They say we are too strict with this and that and the other thing, or even fanatical, schismatic and a hundred other pejoratives. In all these things the world totally and completely fights our faith, telling us to be "quiet".
Do we listen to the world? It can be something as simple as, we are afraid to make the sign of the cross when we have a meal among our business associates. Or we may justify false and foolish priorities. Somebody wrote to me and said, "I am going to be going to my friend's wedding on Saturday and, and don't get on me because I know it's going to be on Pascha. There will be many, many Paschas, but my friend is going to get married only one time." He was listening to the multitude, listening to the crowd, not crying out again and again, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me."
And do we ask for the things we need? As I get older, I get more and more of a lesson in asking for the things that we need. Ask for them! Many of you - most of you - if you have confessed something that you have difficulty with, I tell you, "pray about this sin." Do you get angry? Do you pray and ask God to help you with your anger? Then how do you expect to get better? Do you have unclean thoughts? Do you ask God to purify you? Do you stand before a large icon of the Mother of God, as I have suggested and our Metropolitan has suggested, and beg her to intercede for you, she who is most pure, so that you can become pure? Is there a family difficulty? Is there some approaching calamity? Do you beg God for help, or do you just say a portion of your Trisagion prayers in the morning, and then be off to the rest of your daily activities?
Ask God for what you need, brothers and sisters. But you must ask with faith, and part of asking with faith is also, how you react after God gives you what you had asked for. Look at the example of the blind man to teach you this. The Lord, of course, in His omniscience knew that this man would glorify Him. He knew all aspects of his faith: from his belief that He was the Son of God, to his steadfastness in his confession and his persistence in supplication, to his thanksgiving afterward. How do we react? We've been given the pearl of great price. We forget so often to give thanks to God, so often.
I have something to tell you that's extremely personal that I was going to save for after the Liturgy, but is apropos now. I am full of thanksgiving to God because Christina had surgery this week, on Wednesday. It wasn't really very complicated surgery. It's very easy now, very "routine" to cut someone open and poke things in them, and screw a lead into their heart. It's all routine now, very easy, compared to other types of surgery. And yet it was still done on my daughter, and I was worried and concerned, and for Christina, from the time she has had the manifestation from her heart ailment, it has been four and a half years. (2) And I tell you something honestly; I've learned something about thanking God, because these have been four and a half sweet years, very sweet years. And we almost didn't have them, we came within a minute of not having them. Four and a half sweet years. And may God grant that there will be forty or fifty or sixty more! But even if there are not forty more, these four and a half I truly give thanks to God for.
I wish to tell you that I love my children dearly, but I learned to appreciate them when I saw how easily and quickly one of their lives could be snuffed out. And as Christina continues to live her life and make me (I admit it) very proud and very happy, I think back many, many times to that time four and a half years ago on a hot July day when she almost died, and how none of these experiences I've had with her, none of the fatherly pride that I experience, none of it would have happened. I would have been much poorer because of it, and my family would have been much poorer because of it. So I have learned to thank God because of something like this, that Christina was almost taken, but she is with us. Thank God for this medical technology that saved her. Sometimes God saves through just pure miracles no one can understand, and then other times He guides the hands of surgeons to perform other kinds of miracles.
Is there anything in your life that you should thank God for? It's very easy to forget how good God is. It's very easy to get wrapped up in our lives. It gets so complicated, we get so distracted, but what is really important? God's mercy flooding in us, and us appropriating it, and us praying, living with those we love, working out our salvation. Happiness is really a very easy thing to attain if we only have faith in God. But you just remember to thank God for the things He gives you, for those you love, for the mercy that He has shown you in leading you to the church, and helping you. You must remember to pray, so that God would say that you have faith. And you must also remember, based upon the knowledge of how merciful God is, seeing how He has worked in your life, to have faith that He will help in all things.
Ask Him for things that are important to you. Not trivialities! We've talking about things that touch your heart, that burn within you. Ask Him for those things, like this man. He needed sight, so he asked for it. What do you need? What do you desire? In your heart of hearts what is it that you really desire? I should hope that first and foremost it would be the knowledge of God, and with it purity and holiness. I should hope that you would beg God for these things; certainly our written prayers do. But you know our prayers are sometimes things that we read mechanically. If we read them with faith and with care, they would express every desire and every need we have. That's why we should pray the morning and evening prayers. Absolutely. But if you have trouble sometimes saying these things mechanically, ask God for what you need.
I'm fortunate that in my work I am near a railroad track, and it's very seldom used, although it's used often enough that I get to see the train go by and crush pennies and stuff. I walk on these railroad tracks and I pray at lunch, most lunch times. It gives me an opportunity to just pray. I just pour out my heart about things that matter to me as a father, as a pastor, as a friend, for people that I know that are suffering, people that I love dearly, people for whom my heart hurts. I try to pray. I don't pray as well as I should or as often as I should. Sometimes I allow the tedium of the day, the difficulties, to get to the point where I didn't take any lunch and all I had was a few M&Ms from the dispenser somebody has, and that's it. Then all of a sudden it's 4:00, 5:00, it's time to go home. I missed that opportunity to show faith by begging God for help.
Don't miss too many opportunities like this, brothers and sisters. We don't know how many more we'll have. Remember to thank God for the sweet things He has given you. And remember to beg Him for the things that you need, like this man, who is certainly a model for us. May God help us to live with faith, to thank God in all things, and to beg Him for help in things, no matter what the world says, or people say, or friends or family. Live with faith, brothers and sisters. Live as the blind man did. Ask Him or what you need, and then thank God for all the things He has given you. May we have vision and sight to see truly how sweet God is. Amen.
Luke 18:35-43 is read on the 35th Sunday after Pentecost. This sermon is transcribed from one given at St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, Dallas, Texas, Sunday, Jan 17/30 2000
Christina has "long QT syndrome". It is a usually undiagnosed condition, until it's first manifestation. It renders the heart much more likely to go into a fatal ventricular arrhythmia, that leads to ventricular fibrillation and death very quickly. It is treatable by beta-blocker drugs, but in some case, these drugs are not effective or lose the affectivity over time. In this case, a pacemaker/defibrillator is implanted in the patient (usually in the left pectoral muscle, and an electrical lead is screws in to the heart, in order to detect the onset of the arrhythmia, and prevent it, or in the case of an arrhythmia occurring that leads to fibrillation, to defibrillate the heart and cause it to beat normally again.