"Master," says the distraught father in today's Gospel, "I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit.... And I spake to Thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not." And Jesus replies, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And straightway the father of the child cried out and said with tears, I believe; help thou my unbelief." Whereupon Jesus--as the eternal and omnipotent Son of God--casts out the demon.
When afterwards the disciples privately enquire of our Lord why they were unable to cast it out, He replies, "This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting." Truly the power of faith can work miracles--and even though our faith may at times seem weak and ineffectual, we need only cry out, "Help Thou my unbelief!" and God can, by His grace, fulfill within us whatever is lacking.
Yet even so, simply believing is not always sufficient. As Orthodox Christians, we are called to an ascetic, disciplined way of life founded upon prayer, fasting and self-denial. It follows, therefore, that only those who are willing to do violence to their own fallen human natures can hope to "take by storm" the Kingdom of Heaven. Thus, we must strive at all times to "walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil."
By virtue of our Baptism, we have all been enrolled as soldiers in the Militia of Christ: and we are, therefore, engaged in spiritual warfare against the principalities and powers that rule this present age. Perilous and narrow is the path that leads to salvation, and only those who have taken care to put on the whole armor of God will emerge as victors--having endured unto the end.
Today we call to remembrance St. John Climacus, a venerable Seventh Century hermit at St. Catherine's Monastery on Mount Sinai, who wrote The Ladder of Divine ascent: an ascetical treatise on the avoidance of vice and the practice of virtue. Though the treatise was initially intended for monastics, it has over the years been embraced as a handbook of ascetical practice for those who are "still of this world." The aim of St. John was to guide the faithful toward the attainment of a life completely and wholly devoted to God.
This is, of course, the aim of all Orthodox Christians-- not monastics alone. Even though those of us who are living in the world are beset by manifold distractions and temptations, we are enabled, by God's grace, to aspire toward a life of holiness, striving at all times to acquire the Holy Spirit of God, which is--as St. Seraphim of Sarov assures us--the ultimate aim and purpose of the Christian life.