Sermon by Archbishop Nikon (Rklitzky) on the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
“Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21). So the Lord explained to His disciples the reason they could not heal the possessed youth. “Because of your unbelief,” said the Lord. He then added the words about prayer and fasting. By “this kind,” we must that He meant demonic temptations and the earthly habits of man which hinder him from ascending to the heavenly heights.
The Lord not only talked of the importance of prayer, but showed them the personal example of such a spiritual feat. And so, before selecting the 12 Apostles, the Lord “went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12). After the miraculous feeding of five thousand people with five breads, the Lord “went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone” (Matthew 14:23). He also prayed all night until dawn, when He walked upon the water towards His disciples. Likewise, before the Transfiguration, “He went up into a mountain to pray. And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering” (Luke 9:28-29). He prayed on Mt Tabor all night, for He likely ascended the mountain at the end of evening and descended the next day.
Why did the Lord Jesus Christ, the Almighty God, need to pray, wherein lay His compulsion to pray, and what did He pray for? He had a great need and a great care—the salvation of mankind, and His Church on Earth. The difficulty in the podvig of Jesus Christ consisted in the fact that His sermon was directed towards the free will of mankind. The Lord prayed for His disciples, whom He patiently educated, bringing them towards knowledge of His Kingdom, and prayed for His future Church, that is, for all of us, that we through our own free will stood in His truth, as a Man Incarnate, lifting us into His Divine Kingdom.
There was another special prayer that the Lord made in Gethsemane before His crucifixion, which He needed to undertake for our salvation. In that instance, His soul was sorrowful unto death. “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). We should believe that, as Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of blessed memory explained, that in this prayer, the Lord, as Omniscient God and as our personal Savior, embraced every person, praying for each of us through His empathetic love.
Teaching us to pray through His own example, the Lord showed us the example of a person of prayer among us—the woman of Canaan, who instructs us to pray persistently, and to have great humility.
Equally powerful to prayer is fasting. The Lord in His personal example showed us the significance of fasting through His forty days of abstinence from food before emerging to preach, having defeated demonic temptations.
In our day, and especially among our intelligentsia, lent is neglected and forgotten, so the reestablishment of fasting is a pressing need in our spiritual lives.