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"Like a flickering candle..." - Fourth Sunday of Lent

Father Vassilios Argyriadis

In today's Gospel passage, Christ is shown healing a child with a demonic spirit. But it is worth looking at the passage in its context within the Gospel according to Mark.

Before today's gospel reading, the evangelist Mark cites the narrative of the Transfiguration of Christ "εἰς ὄρος ὑπύσελων". Descending from there, Christ meets a crowd of people talking intensely. What has happened; Someone brought a young child to His disciples to cure him of a demonic spirit. But the students did not succeed. "An unfaithful generation", their teacher reacts...

The father now turns to Christ. He tells him that the demonic spirit has made his son mute. Every now and then it knocks him down and makes him foam, grind his teeth and stay dry. He suffers from this "since childhood" and many times he was thrown into the fire or into the water to drown. The father asks for Christ's help, but he doesn't hope for much: "do something, if you can ...", he says. He doesn't seem to believe it. After all, just before, so many people had not achieved anything. But Christ answers him: "If you believe, it is always possible for the one who believes." And then the father cries: "I believe, Lord, help my unbelief." Christ's words cause a faith to spring up from within man — weak faith, but faith. And the child is healed. At the end of the passage, Christ teaches His disciples: "This generation [the generation of demons] cannot come out of anything except by prayer and fasting."

In the background of today's passage there is therefore a counterpoint: the high mountain of Metamorfosis and the lowland of problems and calamities. The light of the Kingdom and the darkness of a world steeped in corruption and demonic influence. The evangelist describes the symptoms of demonic influence with density and extent, in order perhaps to emphasize all the gloom of a world where the Kingdom of God has not dawned. And this dullness is a congenital condition for humans ("pediothen"). A situation that only leads to destruction ("many people put him in the fire and in the water..."). And nothing can heal it ("I said to your disciples... and they did not work"). Hope is almost lost. But the light does not remain "in the highest heaven" (even though the three eyewitnesses there asked for it). He descends to dispel the darkness.

It is worth noting how frequent the reference to faith (and its verbal variants) is in the narration. The center of gravity of the whole passage seems to be the dichotomy of faith and unbelief. The passage from the world of demonic influence to the world of salvation is mediated by the presence of Christ and the emergence of faith in the midst of an "unbelieving generation".

So since faith is the central axis of the passage, what does the Evangelist tell us about it? In essence, three things are evident in the verses of the passage: First, that faith is fertilized in man by the word of God. Secondly, how, in order to break free from slavery to demonic forces, it must be fueled by action ("in prayer and fasting"). And thirdly, that faith often exists not as a strong force, but as a flickering candle ("help my faith").

Faith does not arise in us by hearing words, but by hearing the word , the word of God. It does not emerge by reading books, but the one book, the Holy Bible — that is where man meets the word of God. The content of the Christian life dims in us when we "wrestle" with the word of God — and anyone who studies the Bible knows well what it means to "wrestle" with biblical interpretation. But our relationship with the Holy Bible, the study and analysis of what we find there (as now is a good time) is sterile and barren if it remains closed in tight-rope theorizing and intellectualism. Because faith is fueled by action. Faith is what we participate in with our body. That is why some thinker has said that faith is (at least initially) the inclusion of man in a world of gestures. This is what fasting means: I set my body to work daily to the rhythm of the Christian imperative. I train myself to fix my vital need on God and not on food. This will mean prayer: I get up from my shot and go to the temple with the others. To light the candle, to worship the saints, to find my place among them; to make myself partaker of the physicality of prayer—I will listen, I will rise, I will smell the incense, I will kneel, I will bow my head, I will become (by eating) the body and the soul of Christ. Sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell. This will mean "integrating man into a world of gestures". This is what fuels faith.

And then what about beliefs and assumptions? We've said it before: people today have learned to associate faith almost exclusively with beliefs and assumptions. We think that belief is marked by shapes and ideas of the mind, theoretical propositions that we dwell on with our conscience. And the more psychological certainty our fortification offers us behind all this, the greater we perceive our faith. Faith is one of those things, yes. But in today's passage the miracle arises in the face of a flickering faith, a faith that accompanies unbelief — "I believe, Lord, help me τῇ ἀπιστίᾳ". Perhaps it reminds us of the definition given to us by the Apostle Paul: "faith is the substance of hope, the control of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). And the New Testament scholars translate [1] : "Faith means assurance of things hoped for and certainty of things not seen." A fundamental contradiction! How "sure" are you, if you "hope"? How much "certainty" do you have about things you "don't see"? The faith of certainties is true only when it paradoxically accompanies the faith of the "hoped for" and the "unseen".

Christians are afraid of doubts. Our psyche is shaken. We consider faith that which is not falsified by uncertainty. But just as in today's passage a miracle is claimed by a man of weak faith, so the Holy Spirit descends on Pentecost, on those who were anything but images of unwavering faith: one disciple denied Him, another doubted His resurrection, all abandoned Him and they fell asleep in the most difficult hour (in the garden of Gethsemane); they were frightened and scattered away from Him when the Jews arrested Him. But His word had engendered in them something—a faith alive and as real as their weaknesses; as real as their unbelief. A faith like a flickering candle. For every person, this wick is met by the fiery tongue of the Holy Spirit. As long as one claims it - "knowing God, but rather being known by God" (Gal. 4,9).

Today's Gospel passage speaks of a passage. A passage from the world of demonic influence, to the world of grace. A passage mediated by Christ and faith — faith like a flickering candle, like bodily participation in a world of gestures. And the Hebrew word Passover—the feast that yokes us together—means just that: passage. It is our passage from the slavery of evil, to the freedom of the Kingdom of God. The passage is open, Christ has opened it for us with His death and Resurrection. It remains for us to read the opening. Focused on His word, which gives birth to faith. Focused on our action, which nurtures faith.

Have a good rest of the race!

[1] Bible Society translation.