Lord, Increase Our Faith
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. God is One.
In the Gospel reading for today from the 17th chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew and in the similar reading from the 9th chapter of the Gospel of St. Mark, a father is worried about his son who is desperately ill. The apostles are unable to help the father, but Christ says to him, “All things are possible to him who believes;” and the father replies, “I do believe; help my unbelief!”
In this church today, perhaps many of us are in the same situation as this father: we believe in Christ; and yet there are limitations to our belief. St. Augustine says in Lesson 65 of his Sermons on the New Testament that, “we have here [with this father] an emergent faith which is not yet full faith.” Certainly, that is my situation. Surprisingly, more than 50 years ago, I was drawn into the decision to become a Christian by an awareness of unbelief, while reading the words of St. Mark in Chapter 6 of his Gospel: Christ “marveled because of [the] unbelief” of the people of his home town, Nazareth in Galilee. I asked myself if I had been there in Nazareth listening to Christ preach how would I have behaved? Would I have believed in Christ or would I have ignored His words and pushed Him out of my life as a Jew who believed in God, but not in Christ as the Messiah? Then I realized that St. Mark was telling the truth; and I could not disbelieve St. Mark. I got down on my knees, and I prayed, “Christ, I believe you are the Messiah, help me.” I experienced a deep sense of calmness and peace—not a mystical vision, but simply an awareness that faith in Christ as the Messiah was an appropriate way to live the rest of my life.
Now, it would be great if I and each one of us in this church today had a full and complete faith in the ability of Christ to guide us and to show us how to live our lives. But I’m not sure that my faith is that great. Perhaps I should feel guilty that I do not always have a full faith that Christ will perform miracles and immediately change my life and the lives of all of those people to whom I relate. But you know, more than fifty years after I became a Christian, and some 23 years after I became an Orthodox Christian, I am aware in the words of St. Augustine that my faith in Christ is still “an emergent faith which is not yet full faith.”
Well, you might reply to me, “You’re a deacon. You’re a member of the clergy. You’re a model. You should have a full faith.” Perhaps. Perhaps I and each of us can develop a full faith before we die or even as we die. But feeling guilty about the reality that our faith is still emerging is not the way ahead. St. Augustine reminds us, and I quote, “that if the apostles themselves had already experienced a completely matured faith, they would not have said to the Lord [in the Gospel of St. Luke, Chapter 17, Verse 5], “Increase our faith.”
CHILDREN’S TALK FROM FATHER GREGORY
A story is told of a mother who used to bake bread for the family but made sure to prepare a bun for her daughter with her initial in dough on the top. Her daughter loved this bread very much and it was always made for her every Sunday; until that is she went to High School. On the first Sunday after starting in her new school her mother gave her instead a piece of paper. “Can I not have my bread now mother,” the girl said, “what is this?” Her mother replied: “For many years you have enjoyed your own special bread and I have loved baking it for you but now you are growing up and this paper that I now give you is the recipe. From now on I want you to make your own bread. At first it will be a little difficult but you will learn, and eventually by following this recipe with love and care you will make bread not only for yourself but also for your own family in due time.”
Children this little story makes something clear about faith and how we are to increase it. In the Scriptures and the Tradition of the Church faith starts off as something given to us and not something that we have had to work at very hard ourselves. As we grow up spiritually we have to learn to be more active, skilful and wise in exercising our own faith. Just like that little girl who had to learn how to bake bread herself, those who are spiritually more mature need to follow the same path. Instead of just receiving faith from others, from our parents and our friends, we must make the rich and nourishing gift of our faith from what is given to us in the Church and then work hard at making it our own in daily life. In the Scriptures and the Tradition of the Church faith is indeed something that we do, not just something that we have. We exercise our faith and by doing this we find that our faith increases as time goes by.
FR DEACON EMMANUEL CONTINUES
In the First Letter of St. Paul to St. Timothy, St. Paul, like St. Mark, reflects on the importance of accepting that there had been earlier within him—who became a remarkable Christian of deep faith—a considerable amount of unbelief. I quote from the first chapter of the First Letter of St. Paul to St. Timothy in which St. Paul thanks “Christ Jesus our Lord, because He judged me faithful by appointing me to His service, though I formerly blasphemed and persecuted and insulted Him; but I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” Note that St. Paul does not say that “I received mercy” in spite of the fact that he had “blasphemed and persecuted and insulted [Christ]” but “because [he] had acted ignorantly in unbelief.” The “grace of our Lord overflowed for [him]” because he needed that grace. Indeed, it was precisely the recognition by St. Paul that he had been acting “ignorantly in unbelief” that empowered within him the humility and the openness to receive the fullness of “the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”
I believe that each of us in this church today are in the position of the apostles and of St. Paul. We believe in Christ. We pray to Him. We believe He can influence our lives. However, we are also aware that we are human beings with our own faults; and we each need to learn the recipe for how to become committed to Christ and His Church. Therefore, it is good that we can each be sufficiently humble to join with the apostles and to say to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”
And so we ascribe as is justly due all might, majesty, dominion, power and praise to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, always now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen
Deacon Emmanuel Kahn