Homily 4th Sunday Lent St. John Ladder
FOURTH SUNDAY OF GREAT LENT
St. John of the Ladder
In today’s Gospel we heard an edifying account of how the Lord Jesus Christ took
three of his disciples and went up on the mountain to pray. There He was transfigured
and “showed His disciples His glory”. In their absence something happened which
greatly worried and upset the other disciples. A crowd which included scribes and
Pharisees had gathered around the remaining disciples. They quarreled, and by their
casuistry accosted the dwindling group of the chosen followers of Christ. The disciples
could not cure the youth possessed by an unclean spirit.
Just then, the crowd saw Jesus coming, and they went to greet Him. They were
awestruck by His appearance. It is possible that His countenance still retained a trace of
the heavenly glory from His transfiguration, as with the Holy Prophet Moses when he
came down from Mt. Sinai.
He asked what they were quarreling about, but the scribes were flustered by His
appearance, and the disciples were too ashamed of their failings and unbelief, and no one
answered. Earlier, He had sent His disciples out to preach, and had given them power
over unclean spirits, yet here was a man who had a son possessed by an unclean spirit,
and the disciples could not drive it out. This obviously gave the enemies of Christ more
reason to gloat, and the faith of the father of the sick boy also started to waver, for his
appeal to Christ for help seemed passive.
All this greatly saddened Jesus Christ: “O faithless generation, how long shall I be
with you?” This indignant cry was directed to them all, the curious crowd, the malicious
scribes and Pharisees, and the half-believing and weak disciples.
The Savior did not act right away. He wanted this scene to be imprinted in the
minds of the people so that they would realize that nothing was impossible for God. In
wanting to reinforce the faith of the trembling supplicant, He delayed granting healing,
and tested him in conversation. This helped to bring the father of the sick boy to exclaim,
“Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” (Mk. 9:24) The Lord rebuked the unclean
spirit and healed the youth.
It is edifying to see how quickly the Lord responds to requests made with faith.
When the disciples were alone with the Lord, they asked Him why they were not
able to cure the youth, and the Lord answered, “because of your unbelief.” Obviously,
the disciples were intimidated when they found out that the youth had been sick for a
long time, and that the unclean spirit had such a strong hold on him. Their faith was like
the faith of the Apostle Peter when he wanted to walk on the water: it was enough to
start, but not enough to finish. And so the Lord added this wonderful instruction, “This
kind (i.e. unclean spirits) can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.”
How is it that fasting, which outwardly seems like just a matter of the body, can
be effective with prayer in the battle against spirits? How can bodiless spirits be
influenced by the effects of fasting?
The reason for the efficacy of fasting on evil spirits lies in its undeniable effect on
our own souls. Man controls himself. By curbing the body with a spiritual fast, the
human soul attains freedom, power, sobriety, purity, sensitivity and SELF-CONTROL.
Only such a spirit can resist its invisible enemies. The Holy Prophet David said, “when
they troubled me, I put on sackcloth, and I humbled my soul with fasting.” (Ps. 34: 15-
16) The holy Fathers of the Church say that fasting gives sobriety to the mind, and
prayer is the mind’s weapon with which to drive away enemies. Fasting humbles the
soul, freeing it from bitterness. The prayer of one who fasts is especially powerful, for it
is uttered not superficially, but from the soul itself, from the depth of the heart which
directs and lifts it up to God.
It goes without saying that fasting has two aspects, bodily and spiritual. A bodily
fast by itself does not have as much power, but a spiritual fast always enables bodily
The Holy Church leads us deeper into the spiritual life, encouraging us to delve
into the meaning of prayer and fasting.
So, on this Sunday of Great Lent, we commemorate one of the pillars of the
virtues of prayer and fasting – St. John of the Ladder, abbot of the Monastery on Mt.
Like a true teacher, St. John taught that to practice the virtues and to perfect them,
it is better to master one virtue at a time, then go on to the next in order, from the lower to
the higher, not falling back, but progressing gradually, even if slowly. It is like climbing a
He wrote a book called The Ladder of Divine Ascent, and that is why he is called
St. John of the Ladder. For St. John, prayer and fasting are like two wings that bear a
person upwards on the spiritual ladder.
Making a gradual ascent in the spiritual life is a concern not only of ascetics and
recluses, but should also be a concern of all believers in general, for we are all at different
stages of spiritual development, whether we like it or not. For example, if one of us falls
ill, or we lose a loved one, our spiritual life changes in one way or another, depending on
that person. Some seem to bear these things more calmly than others. The spiritual
ladder is something familiar to all of us.
So, beloved brothers and sisters! Do not be discouraged when times of disaster,
bewilderment, or doubt befall us. This happens to all believers. Try to hang on and not
lose heart. Remember the ladder. Even Christ’s apostles had such moments, as we read
in the Holy Gospel.
Do not become despondent, but turn to God, crying “Lord, I believe; help thou
mine unbelief!” and the Lord will not forsake us as He did not forsake the father and his
sick son. Amen.
Спасо-Вознесенский Православный Храм
Holy Ascension Orthodox Church
Russian Orthodox Church Abroad
3921 University Drive
Fairfax, Virginia 22030
(703) 591 – 9445