Arise, Your Sins Are Forgiven You
+ Fr. Alexander Men
(The following is a sermon delivered on the Sunday of St. Gregory of Palamas, the second Sunday of the Fast. The homilist, Fr. Alexander Men (1935 -1990), was an architect of religious renewal in Russia at the end of the Soviet period. A remarkable leader and prolific author he was assassinated in 1990. Through his writings, through his memory and his spiritual heritage, however, he still speaks, and it may be he is an increasing presence in the world as his work becomes better known." Edited excerpts from an introduction by Bishop Seraphim Sigrist).
On the Second Sunday of Lent (this year March 16), the Church opens to us a page of the Gospel that we all know well, about the healing of the man sick of the palsy (Mark 2: 1-2). The man sick of the palsy was paralyzed, lying like one dead, and others carried him to the Lord. From the Holy Scriptures we remember that four men were carrying the sick man on a stretcher, but when they arrived at the house where the Savior was, they could not get inside because the crowd was so dense. They tried to get in through the door but could not. Nevertheless they did not give up. They climbed up on the roof, taking the stretcher with them; they took the roof apart and let down the stretcher into the room. Jesus, seeing their faith, said to the paralyzed man, "Rise, your sins are forgiven you."
Have you ever thought what kind of people they were; those who carried the stretcher? After all, it doesn't say that they were relatives, or the sick man's children, mother, father or brothers. Apparently they were simply friends, possibly neighbors. They made the effort for the sick man's sake, not their own. Not everyone would have climbed onto someone else's roof, taken it apart and let the stretcher down on ropes. It was probably awkward and difficult, but they wanted at all costs to get through to where the Lord was. And He saw their faith in their efforts and exertions. The main thing He saw in them, of course, was their love for this man. They had taken a lot of trouble on his behalf, expecting and believing that he would be healed; that the Lord Jesus could save this man who was lying there like a living corpse.
Reading these pages, I thought about the way things happen in our lives. I remember someone who was also paralyzed; you all know who I mean. He had a son and other relatives, but no one gave him any help. He used to lie there like a piece of rubbish, like a corpse or worse. Such things happen often in our life here. Not always in so dreadful, mean and humiliating a manner, such as when a son cares nothing for his own mother; often it is less obvious. Hearts can be cold, uncaring and insensitive. But these men we read about in the Bible were quite different. They wanted this man to be healed so much, that was as if they themselves were ill and longed to rise from their sickbeds.
So, my dear friends, we have before us a great example for Lent. What kind of example? That we can be saved and find the Lord in our lives only together, by helping each other, loving and forgiving, stretching out a helping hand. If that is how we try and live, God's hand, Christ's hand will be stretched out to us in response. That is because, at the same time that He is saving us from the abyss, He wants us to help each other. When we cannot help outwardly, through action, we can help through prayer. So our daily prayers for each other should not be just a list of names. But when you yourselves pray for your relations and friends, for people close to you and for those in need, pray properly, with the same kind of persistence as the relations or friends of that paralyzed man used to try and get into the house, to reach the Lord.
There will be obstacles; you know what they are: our laziness, weariness and weakness. How difficult it all is! We feel as if we were carrying heavy boulders, rather than praying. But at the moment when you find it difficult to pray for those close to you, remember that it was probably not very easy to haul the stretcher with the paralyzed man in it, onto the roof. Those men were rewarded however: Jesus saw their faith. And if you and I overcome our inertia, He will see our faith, so that in the end we shall overcome all obstacles. The Lord tells us, "Knock and it shall be opened unto you," so be persistent in prayer.
Do we not all know how confused and weak people are, how everyday matters endlessly distract us and fill our thoughts and emotions? It's funny to think that we allow these same matters, silly trifles that we won't even remember the day after tomorrow, to fill our short lives which, you would think, we would treasure above all else. All this cuts us off from our Lord, shutting us off from heaven and choking off prayer, like smoke from a funnel rising and obscuring the light from the sun. And what is smoke? It is made up of tiny black particles. In just the same way, our sins and restlessness rise and obscure everything like smoke, so that our life ceases to be Christian and becomes vain and pointless.
Only a search for the Lord, a longing to touch Christ the healer, can give us victory. It is Lent now and we are trying to pray more and practice abstention more often. A small abstention from food is a tiny, microscopic offering to God. Let us try to pull ourselves together spiritually and this time let us offer the Lord a prayer for each other, not for ourselves, not for our own health, salvation or well being, but for our sisters and brothers, for those who are dear to our hearts: offer the Lord a prayer for them today, as the Gospel teaches us. Pray for them, that their way may be blessed, that the Lord may keep them and come to meet them; then all of us will ascend towards the Lord, as if holding on to that prayer. This is the main thing; the rest will follow, but this is essential to our lives. Then Jesus, seeing our faith, will say to all those for whom we have been praying, and to us, for whom they have been praying: "My child, awake from your sleep and your sickness, from your palsy, your spiritual paralysis; arise, your sins are forgiven you."