On 22 March 2015, the 4th Sunday of the Lent, also called Sunday of Saint John Climacus, His Beatitude Daniel, Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church visited the monastic community of Pasarea Monastery, county of Ilfov, where he participated in the Divine Liturgy.
To end with the celebration of the religious service, the Patriarch of Romania spoke about the Evangelical parable read today, as well as about Saint John Climacus: “The Church scheduled the Gospel on the healing of the demonised man to be read on the 4th Sunday of the Lent, also called the Sunday of Saint John Climacus, because it refers especially to Saint John Climacus, although he is celebrated every year on 30 March. The Gospel shows us three great works that Jesus Christ, our Saviour did, namely: He healed the father of the sick child of doubt, healed the child of sickness getting him rid of the bad spirit, and healed His disciples of spiritual ignorance on the removal of the demons from the humans.
Weakened faith strengthens the work of the devil over the humans
The Gospel emphasises, on one hand, how much sufferance He found at the child tortured by the demon, and how little faith he found at the child’s father. Much sufferance on one hand, and little faith, on the other hand! This is why, when Christ-the-Lord heard the child’s father saying: “I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.” (Mark 9:18) He was very upset, because He knew the cause of the child’s sickness, namely the weak faith of the father and the spiritual ignorance of the disciples. Yet, Jesus, the Lord, did not reprove the child’s father directly, not to add the sorrow of reproving to his already great sufferance. But because the child’s father belonged to the Jewish people divided in two, namely a part of them believed in Christ, and another part doubted His power, Lord Jesus told those with weak faith: “You unbelieving generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?” (Mark 9:19). Thus, Jesus Christ, our Lord wants to indirectly show us that the demons have power over the humans when the faith of the people weakens. The more people’s faith weakens, to more power the bad spirits have over the humans, making them grumble, rebel and utter blasphemy against God when they suffer, especially when an innocent child is suffering. Rather often, the one weak in faith rebels or utters blasphemy against God instead of coming close to Him or praying for His help”, the Patriarch of Romania said.
The sincere repentance of the father brings about the healing of the sick son
His Beatitude Patriarch Daniel also underlined the fact that “In the former part of his confession: ‘I believe, help my unbelief”, the father of the sick child shows that he strengthened his faith, while in the latter one he shows that he strengthened his lowliness, admitting that his faith was not strong enough in the beginning to get the healing of his son. We see in the words of the sad father two attitudes complementary from a spiritual point of view. First, his tears show his state of repentance for his little faith, or faith mixed with doubt, while his words: “I believe!” show his desire to strengthen his faith. Finally, his words: “Help my unbelief” confirm once more his repentance united to lowliness. He did not say: help my little faith, but he even called, due to his lowliness, his little faith unbelief. As soon as he spiritually improved this grieved father, strengthening his faith, Jesus healed his son too, ordering the demon who was torturing the child: “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again!”
(Mark 9:25). That moment the demon cried out and convulsed him terribly. And the child was lying on the ground like a corpse, so that some of them thought he was dead. But Jesus took him by the hand, lifted him up, and took him to his father. The child was healed forever. His good health was the gift of the merciful love of Christ, the supreme Doctor of the souls and bodies, because He is the source of life and salvation”.
The compassionate father becomes the voice of the child enslaved by the bad spirit
“Jesus Christ, our Saviour, fulfilled the desire of this grieved father who did not say: “help my child” or “have mercy on us!”, but “help us, having mercy on us”. Although only the child was suffering, all his sufferance was shared by his father too. The child was sick, but his father made himself the voice of the child’s sufferance, who was tortured by a deaf and dumb spirit. In fact, just because he was tortured by a deaf and dumb demon the child could not utter any word to express his sufferance. Having seen the ardent prayer, faith strengthened and deep lowliness of the child’s father, Jesus commanded the demon to come out of the child and never enter him again. It is only now that the child becomes again his father’s son, in good health and free, because Jesus gave good health and freedom to the child. As long as the child was sick or possessed by the demon, this one dominated him. Thus, we see how Jesus Christ, our Lord, has mercy both on the child’s father, who repents recognising his little faith, and on the child whom He gets rid of the deaf and dumb demon who was torturing him. Therefore, all those present saw the healing and merciful love of Jesus”, the Primate of the Romanian Orthodox Church explained.
Fasting changes our physical hunger and thirst into spiritual hunger and thirst for God
The Patriarch of Romania has also spoken about the power of prayer united to fasting: “The Holy Fathers of the Church, great prayerful and fasters, who fought a lot for getting rid of the selfish passions, call these passions “demons” or “bad spirits”. Thus, they call greed the “demon or devil of greed”. In order to understand their expressions, we must understand their fight first. They have very often seen that the demons use the weakness of the body and soul to alienate man from God. Saint Isaac the Syrian says in a prayer to Jesus Christ, our Lord: “Lord, I have no daughter (just like the Canaanite woman), but a body who is terribly demonised.” The Holy Fathers have personally experienced the power of prayer united to fasting through this fight against the temptations which do not come to man only from the body, but also from the bad spirits, envious of the spiritualised human. Prayer united to fasting changes the physical hunger and thirst of the human into spiritual hunger and thirst of God. If man feeds on the spiritual presence of God in prayer, through the lecture of the Holy Scriptures, on the merciful deeds, then he becomes a strongly spiritualised man, so that he can overcome, with God’s help, the bad passions and temptations coming from the demons through the weakness of the sinful human nature. Moreover, today’s Gospel also shows us our parents’ care for their children. The father of the sick child, even if his faith was weak at the beginning mixed to doubt, he came to Christ because of the child’s sufferance, to the Healer of diseases, and Christ-the-Lord strengthened the father’s faith and removed the child’s sufferance. Here we see how Christ-the-Lord calls all the parents who have children sick or tortured by demons or bad passions, to come to Him to pray for His help with much faith and hope. Therefore, the Gospel of the 4th Sunday of the Lent is a Gospel of healing and of strong faith accompanied by fasting”.
Saint John Climacus, teacher of prayer, fasting and repentance
“On the 4th Sunday of the Lent, Saint John Climacus is especially remembered. He passed away in 649, having lived in the last part of the 6th century and beginning of the 7th, in the region of Sinai Mount, although he was coming from Palestine. Saint John Climacus, also called the Scholasticus, was a teacher of prayer, effort, fasting and repentance. He shows us, in his book entitled “Ladder of Virtues” or “Ladder of Paradise” how to get rid of passions and get virtues. Lowliness and love are the greatest virtues he describes in the book entitled “Ladder of Virtues”. Saint John Climacus is a teacher of the entire Christianity, as teacher of the virtues acquired through strong faith, prayer and fasting. The Ladder of Virtues or briefly, the Ladder was read in monasteries for centuries on end. Today too, this book is read in certain monasteries especially during the Lent. Saint John Climacus shows in simple words, but with deep content, the spiritual fight in mind, heart and body of the one spiritually trying to come closer to God through the accomplishment of the divine commandments, getting rid of passions and cultivating the virtues or holiness. Saint John Climacus is called, in the chants of the 4th Sunday of the Lent “the ladder of virtues”, “praise of the monks”, “enlightener and guide on the way of salvation”.
Repentance, fasting, lowliness, tears and all the efforts mentioned in the Ladder of Saint John are designed to purify man of passions and grow him in virtues, in devoted love for God and for humans. These virtues are gathered in the soul as flowers of light to offer them to Jesus Christ, our Saviour, in the light of the Holy Easter. Saint John Climacus, teacher of prayer, fasting and repentance is not only praised in the chants of the Matins of this Sunday, but also invoked to pray for us. Therefore, he is not only a model or spiritual icon, but also a prayerful one for us. This is why we pray Saint John Climacus to help us heal our passions and get the virtue of the devoted and merciful love”, His Beatitude Patriarch Daniel concluded.
To end with, the Patriarch of Romania offered to Pasarea Monastery several liturgical books as a sign of appreciation and blessing.