There is no doubt that talking about faith requires a great deal of explanation. Most of us say that he is a believer, while in reality he is not necessarily a believer in the way that faith must be. There are people who believe that if someone intellectually believes a certain thing, this means that he has become a believer in it. But faith is one thing and believing is something else. So let us see what faith entails.
In the New Testament, there is a definition of faith. In the Epistle to the Hebrews, faith has two fundamental elements: trust and faith in what is unseen. When we say “trust”, this means that there is a relationship. It is not rational for me to trust someone if I don’t know him and I have no relationship with him. Then, when someone is certain about something, this means that he in convinced, without the slightest doubt, of the goodness and ability of the person with whom he has a relationship. So if faith requires trust and certainty in what is unseen, then realistically it is impossible for a person to believe! How can he believe in God if he does not know Him and has not had a relationship with Him? Of course, at the same time, for him to know Him and have a relationship with Him requires that he believe in Him. So the relationship requires faith and faith requires a relationship. So how can someone start when he has neither faith nor a relationship? Humanly, then, a person cannot believe on his own. But faith is a grace from God!
But why doesn’t the Lord grant for all people to be believers? This is because some people have preparation to believe and others do not have preparation. This is something ordinary. If we have, for example, water, it is very basic for there to be fertile earth. But water doesn’t act and doesn’t fertilize if there is no soil. So there is a need for soil. If we pour water on the desert, we do not benefit from anything. In this manner, someone is ready for faith if he has a heart that is prepared to benefit and be fertile when the grace of God, which is the grace of faith, comes upon him. The issue here is a person’s heart, whether it is ready to believe or not. Of course, this raises the question: when is the heart ready for faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? The heart is ready for faith in the Lord Jesus Christ when a person is upright, loves the truth, says that truth is true and falsehood false. A person knows these things according to human nature when he walks in the truth. There is no person in this world who does not distinguish, albeit within certain limits, between right and wrong, between acceptable and unacceptable, between truth and falsehood. A person who does not possess this distinction is either sick or has lost his mental faculties, since every person by nature has preparation, when he is raised in his environment, to know good from evil, even if it is to a limited degree. If he has walked in uprightness and loved the true and the good, then he becomes ready to accept the grace of faith that comes to him from the Father of Lights. While the person who is hypocritical, impure, twisted and not upright… it is impossible for him to believe. For this reason the devil, for example, knows but does not believe because he is twisted and impure and at the same time hypocritical, lying and murderous. The devil has extremely broad information, but this information does him no good because his heart is not upright. The evil person who walks without uprightness, loves falsehood, is concerned with getting what he wants, does not testify to the truth in any way and is not concerned with the truth but rather is only concerned with himself and his own interests… such a person cannot believe and cannot be ready for faith. In this sense, faith isn’t for everyone!
Why do you think that the upright person who loves the true and loves the good is ready to accept faith in God? Because uprightness, truth and goodness are flashes of the Lord Jesus Christ who is truth, goodness and life. These are lights from Him, sown in the nature of man who, if he walks in them, he is drawn close to God. When the Lord God wants to reveal Himself to him, then he (that is, this person who is upright in his path, a man of truth and goodness) sees that faith is something very normal and natural and he wants to believe but he cannot because of human weakness. It is impossible for someone to believe in God by his own powers. You remember that incident when a man came with his son who had an impure spirit and the Lord asked him, “If you believe, everything is possible for the believer.” The father replied, “I believe, O Lord, help my unbelief!” (That is, my entire being is drawn to faith, but I find in myself that I am not a believer. I am too weak to be able to believe in You. I need for You to grant me to believe. As for myself, I am drawn to you and I am completely prepared to believe in You.] At that point, the Lord gave him what he wanted. The weakness within us does not absolutely deprive us of God. We are all weak. The Lord God truly wants to give Himself to weak humans, not to strong humans, since there are no strong humans. So weakness absolutely isn’t a problem. Indeed, it helps to attract divine grace, since the Spirit of the Lord settles within us in our weakness and at that point we become strong– but by God’s grace, not in ourselves. For this reason, when the Apostle Paul talks about human weakness, he says, “I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
So the condition for us to be ready to accept faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is for us to be upright in our life. Blessed is the one who bears witness to the truth even at his own expense, for there is no doubt that for God he is a chosen vessel and a blessed man. But why are there not many believers, to the degree that the Lord says, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith upon the earth?” The reason for this is that most people have come to walk in twistedness and without uprightness. They do not love the truth, but rather love their own interests. The truth, today, is equivalent to people’s interests. Very, very few people today bear witness to the truth because people look out for their own. Their basic concern is acquisition and avoiding harm. For this reason, it is very hard for them to believe and to accept God’s grace. Therefore God’s grace is not given to them because God knows the hidden things of their hearts, for He puts His grace in damaged vessels! This is a fundamental aspect of the issue of faith. He is very near to us, but at the same time He is very far from us! Uprightness is needed.
In light of this definition of faith, let us now look at what happened to the woman with the issue of blood and what happened to Jairus the leader of the synagogue. First, the woman with the issue of blood had her issue of blood for twelve years. The number twelve certainly has a meaning. Among numbers, there are perfect numbers. This is a perfect number that indicates that the time for this woman to be visited by God had come. Therefore the Lord came and healed her. Why had He not healed her before? Does He like to leave people to suffer and after that come and heal them? No, He is never like that! The Lord never likes suffering and torment. Those who portray the Lord to you as casting people into hell, roasting them and taking revenge on them are giving you a very mistaken image of God who is love. But why do you think this woman remained in her situation for precisely twelve years? Why was she not healed after one or two or eleven years or just immediately? This is truly because she needed this complete time until her innermost parts were ready for faith in the Lord Jesus! What is meant here is not necessarily twelve years, 365 days each year, 24 hours every day. There are people whom the Lord heals after a day or two, a month or two or a week or two. The issue of time isn’t what is fundamental. What is fundamental is that each of us needs a period of time particular to him when he is in pain in order to be ready completely to be a believer in the Lord Jesus. The truth is that a person does not become existentially ready for faith in the Lord Jesus except through pain. Therefore it is said in simplicity, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.” If someone thinks that things can come easily, without vexation, he is in serious error. The Lord permits tribulations and suffering because they are fundamental for setting the heart aright, so that one may become upright. So twelve years were necessary for this woman to become ready to believe. Her faith was made clear when it is said, “She came from behind and touched the border of His garment. And immediately her flow of blood stopped.” She said to herself that if she touched the border of his garment, she would be healed. This was a very great act of faith! For this reason, when the Lord Jesus uncovered her, He said to her, “Daughter, be of good cheer; your faith has made you well. Go in peace.” The Lord Jesus Christ bore witness to her faith. He truly bore witness to the uprightness of her soul, on the basis of which He gave her the grace of faith in Him, so she became a believer in Jesus. This was the state of the woman with the issue of blood. Everything is possible for the believer.
As for Jairus, the head of the synagogue, he had an only daughter who was twelve years old. Despite the fact that he was head of the synagogue– that is, an honored person with a station among people– out of his pain over his daughter, he came and prostrated at Jesus’ feet. This is great humility for an person important in his nation to be humble before a teacher. From where did the head of the synagogue have this humility? He had it from suffering. He was grieving for his daughter and she was at death’s door. That is, she was probably seriously ill. She was suffering and he was suffering with her. Notice what the Lord Jesus says to Jairus when He goes to his house, “Do not fear. Only believe and she is healed.” These are very great words. First, He told him that he was subject to fear and this is from human weakness. At the same time, He touched his heart so that he would not surrender to fear, then He told him, “Only believe, and she will be healed.” This means that if someone is a believer, the effects of his faith are not limited to his own person, but extend to others too! The girl did not rise from the dead from her own faith, but by the faith of her father. So we are capable, by the grace of God, to benefit not only ourselves but also others, if we are believers in Jesus and if they are prepared and ready, exactly like what happened with that paralytic who was brought on a bed by four men. They lowered him through the roof in front of Jesus and when the Lord saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then, after that, He told him, “Arise, carry your bed, and go to your house.” For this reason prayer, which is an act of faith par excellence, is what benefits the world more than anything else, so long as the world is ready to accept the grace of God which comes into the world through us, through our faith and through our prayer. Therefore, we pray for the peace of the whole world!
So let no one think that he is separated from others. This isn’t true. All people are tied to each other. There is a big family, which is the family of the world, and there is a small family. But for God, there are no individuals. One who thinks that he can be saved alone has no share in salvation. For this reason, each one of us must strive for the salvation of others and seek for them, because faith in itself is individual faith, but within the communion of the family of humanity– and especially the family of believers who accept the Lord Jesus and walk with Him in integrity and uprightness. Today, the trend is toward the individualization of humankind: each for himself! Therefore each person becomes more and more an island unto himself. Even within a single house, the father comes to be alone, the mother alone and each of the children alone. The important thing for us to know is that this individualism kills man and kills faith in God and any relationship with Him. We must once more overlap with each other. When the Lord asked Cain, “Where is your brother?” He said to Him, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The Lord God didn’t answer him, but He answered us indirectly because He made us all keepers of each other. We are all responsible for each other. Absolutely no one can say that he is responsible for himself and not responsible for anyone else. This is talk from the evil one! In Christ, we say something else: “I am responsible for myself, so I am responsible for all of you. The salvation of each one of you is my concern.” For this reason, when a monk comes to a monastery, he doesn’t pray only for himself, but rather prays for the world. This is why people rush to monasteries and ask the monks for prayer, because the monks’ concern is to bear the world and to lift it up to the Lord God with sighing, tears and brokenness of heart. They are the people whose fundamental concern is the salvation of humanity.
So we make a true contribution to each others’ salvation. Those who do not work for others’ salvation have no salvation to be cut from the Book of Life. For this reason, faith, the faith of one person, benefits all humanity! In the sixth century, Saint Barsanouphius of Gaza said that humanity existed at that time on account of the prayer of three people who prayed for the sake of the world. All who have great standing in the Christian faith bear the entire world in their hearts. Their fundamental concern is to extend the concern of the Lord Jesus, which is the salvation of all humanity. If we understand this matter, each one of us returns from living alone. One must go out and be concerned for others in order to find oneself. Saint Maximus the Confessor clearly and frankly states that what a person receives from this earth is what he has given to others. So as long as we care for one another, we have truly realized our own salvation. Faith, then, is an act of love that binds us to all humanity because it binds us in trust and certainty, in great love for the Lord Jesus.
If any has ears to hear, let him hear.
Archimandrite Touma Bitar
Abbot of the Monastery of St Silouan the Athonite
Sunday, October 28, 2018