April 22, 2024

Homily on the Passion for the Fifth Sunday of Great Lent: On the Need for Prayer Amid Temptations

Homily on the Passion for the Fifth Sunday of Great Lent

On the Need for Prayer Amid Temptations

By Archimandrite Kirill (Pavlov)

(Delivered in 1964)
"Watch and pray, so that you do not fall into temptation: the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41).

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit!

It was a terrible night, beloved brothers and sisters, which began with the sorrows of our Lord Jesus Christ in Gethsemane. That night He endured a painful internal struggle within himself, terrible mental suffering, which was a foretaste of the torments of the cross. He grieved that night and was horrified by the sorrowful cup that He had to drink from. This night ended with the initial suffering of the God-man in the courtyard of the high priest Caiaphas.

The morning and day of Friday that followed the night were also terrible: these were the morning and day of the most suffering and the terrible and at the same time humiliating death of the God-man. But Christ the Savior was not the only one who was subjected to severe temptations during this terrible time. Great temptations then lay before both the friends and enemies of Christ. The friends had to either, having overcome temptation, share in with their Divine Teacher the dangers that lay ahead of Him, or, succumbing to cowardice, change their love for Him and leave Him alone among enemies and suffering. His enemies faced a different temptation: to take advantage of the favorable opportunity to carry out their evil plans and, having achieved their implementation, to commit the greatest crime in the history of mankind - deicide.

Everyone who was exposed to temptation needed the greatest vigilance and to protect themselves with the most reliable shield against temptation - prayer. That is why the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, in anticipation of the coming temptations and sufferings, that night, as never before, kept watch and prayed with an intensity unusual for Him, and encouraged His disciples: "Watch and pray, so that you do not fall into temptation: for the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41). But unfortunately, only He alone stayed awake and prayed that night and repelled all temptations with glory. On the contrary, both His friends and His enemies fell under the blows of temptation.

Therefore, pray, my beloveds, so that you will not fall into temptation. In prayer, the Lord Himself shows us the most reliable means for repelling temptations and successfully combating them. Indeed, prayer is the surest weapon for repelling and overcoming temptations.

If our entire destiny is in the power of God and it depends on the Lord God to allow us or to turn away temptation from us, if the Lord grants man the strength necessary to successfully fight temptations, then what can be compared with prayer, through which we can receive deliverance from the temptations and circumstances that befall us?

But unfortunately, not everyone uses prayer as the most reliable means of overcoming temptations. Like the Apostles, who in Gethsemane could not stay awake and pray for one hour with the Lord, who was preparing for suffering and death, we, for the most part, are immersed in a heavy sleep - not in a physical sleep, like the Apostles, but in a spiritual sleep, a heavy sleep of carelessness and negligence, so that, when faced with temptations, we find ourselves unable to pray at all. And therefore, when we encounter temptation without prayerful preparation, without a prayerful spirit, we, like the Apostles, fall under the weight of the temptation that has come upon us. From this we should understand how we should take care of acquiring this most reliable means in the fight against temptations, indicated by the Lord Himself - prayer - and how we should try to learn to pray fervently and constantly.

There are many and varied means and aids for arousing the spirit of prayer in oneself, but the best of them is the remembrance of the suffering and death of Christ. With this memory, zeal and fervor for prayer are automatically aroused, the consciousness of the need for prayer for us and confidence in its success arises.

The need for higher help, and together with prayer for asking this help from God, is most powerfully realized by the soul of a Christian when, with extreme clarity and vividness, he imagines, on the one hand, the severity and danger of temptations that befall him on the path of earthly life, especially in difficult moments bearing the cross, and, on the other hand, the extreme weakness of our nature, doomed to this bearing of the cross. When remembering the suffering and the Cross of Christ, the severity and danger of his temptations, and the powerlessness of human nature, doomed to fight against them, are clearly revealed to the Christian’s gaze; and these temptations themselves speak with undeniable force about the need for higher help, as well as prayer for asking it from God.

During the earthly life of our Lord Jesus Christ, the spirit of constant and fervent, fervent prayer were never so strongly aroused in Himself as at the thought of suffering on the cross. When He thought about their severity, His prayer was so fervent that on Tabor it illuminated His face like the sun; and in Gethsemane, preparing to drink the cup of the sufferings of the cross, He prayed until the sweat fell like drops of blood. Thus, the severity of the upcoming suffering prompted Jesus Christ to fervent, fervent prayer.

The same thing happens with every true Christian. With greater force than ever, a prayerful disposition is awakened in the soul of a Christian at the memory of the suffering and death of Christ. Only he learns to pray fervently and acquires the gift of constant fervent prayer who often and with attention fixes his mental gaze on the sufferings of Christ. And the reason for this phenomenon is clear.

The Way of the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ is the prototype of our Way of the Cross with you. The entire earthly life of the Savior represents the prototype of the life on earth of His Church and of every true Christian soul. Therefore, just as the Lord had especially difficult and sorrowful days, the days of His suffering - from Gethsemane to Golgotha -, so every Christian has and will have his own noetic Gethsemane and his own noetic Golgotha. Just as these sufferings were terrible and difficult for the Lord, so they will be difficult for His follower.

For every true Christian, sooner or later, whether in the middle or at the end of the race, but certainly, according to the definition of God's Providence, the time will come when everything will rise up against him: both severe external temptations and painful internal ones will unite together and fall with their force on the crucufied Christ, and then his position will be especially difficult and dangerous.

And so, vividly imagining this terrible possibility when remembering the suffering of Christ - to perish under the weight of temptations and disasters -, the Christian clearly recognizes the need for prayer to ask for help from God, thinking that if the Lord Jesus Christ Himself turned to the Heavenly Father with a prayer for help, if, amidst temptations, an Angel was sent to Him to strengthen Him, then all the more necessary is help from above for us, clothed in weak flesh and unable to rely on the vigor of our spirit. Yes, if we remembered more often the sufferings of the Lord, we would certainly acquire the spirit of constant and fervent prayer.

Zeal for prayer, aroused by its necessity for us, is aroused and supported in us with no less force by the confidence in its success, the confidence that it will certainly be heard. After all, even in ordinary life, our request then becomes firm and bold when we are confident that it will be fulfilled.

And on the contrary, it can be weak if we do not expect success from it. It’s the same in prayer: it then becomes fiery and zealous when we are sure that it will be heard. If the power of prayer depends so much on confidence in its success, then what kind of strong prayer should be aroused in a Christian when remembering the suffering of Christ, which so decisively vouches for this success, assuring us that the Lord Jesus Christ both wants and can help us, and He will certainly hear our petitions to Him.

The main reason for our willingness to help someone is our sympathy for the petitioner, our love for him and our understanding of the plight that threatens him. And when the petitioner finds this readiness in our love for him and compassion, then he is confident in the success of his petition for deliverance from misfortune. What strong confidence in the readiness of our Lord Jesus Christ to listen to our prayers and help us should we be filled with when we remember the sufferings and the Cross of Christ! Is it possible to have truer evidence of His boundless love for us than the evidence presented by His suffering on the cross for us, the unworthy? "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).

When remembering the suffering of Christ, what other guarantees are needed that Jesus Christ can both understand the severity of our cross-bearing and graciously help us? He knows the severity of our cross-bearing not only from His Divine Omniscience, but also from His own experience.

He went through such a thorny way of the cross that no one has ever gone through and no one will ever go through, because no one can do it. He endured such terrible suffering that just remembering it makes a person shudder. Will not He who, from the fullness of suffering, hanging on the Cross, cry out to His Heavenly Father, respond with love and sorrow to our prayer: "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46). Will not He who Himself calls those who mourn to Himself open His gracious embrace and say: "Come to Me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28)?

So, my beloved, we only need to remember the severity of Christ’s suffering, and this remembering will teach us to pray with faith and strength, to pray successfully always, in the most difficult moments of our lives. Therefore, boldly turn, Christian, with your prayer for help in the midst of temptations and dangers to Jesus Christ and trust without hesitation on your way of the cross the guidance of the Divine Crucified One.

Remember the scourgings He endured, the slapping, the spitting, the beating of the head with a rod, the crowning with thorns, the wounds of nails (John 20:25) on the arms and feet, the unbearably painful hanging on the cross, the terrible thirst during the hours of suffering on the cross, the pierced side - remember all this, and you will understand that He knows the weakness of our flesh suffering under the cross.

If you are exhausted under the weight of the inner cross, then in this struggle no one will help you better than Him, because the inner cross is known to Him to the highest degree. What a difficult spiritual struggle He endured with Himself is evident from the fact that He prayed to His Heavenly Father that His cup of suffering would pass, the cup for which He came to earth. What kind of internal cross He endured at the sight of the traitorous disciple, at the sight of the abandonment of Him by the other disciples and the denial of Peter, who swore allegiance to Him, at the sight of the frantic people demanding His crucifixion, the people to whom He had done so much good, at the brutality of the crucifiers and the inhumanity of the blasphemers, who mocked His torment, and, finally, when He was abandoned by the Heavenly Father Himself!

Remember all this, Christian, and an unshakable confidence will appear in you that the Sufferer of Golgotha can help all those who are tempted, and this gracious confidence with all its strength will arouse in you zeal for prayer, and you will acquire the most reliable means of overcoming temptations and misfortunes.

But You, merciful Lord, look mercifully upon us, although unworthy, but children faithful to Your love, gathered here to honor the memory of Your suffering, and be merciful, merciful to our sins and untruths, and grant us, together with the prudent thief, to cry out to You: Jesus, Son of God, remember us when you come in Your Kingdom. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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