In one of the Sunday Gospel readings we hear of how a Roman centurion asked the Lord Jesus Christ to heal his servant, i.e. his slave.
According to the mores of those times, a slave or a servant was regarded as being a notch lower than man, and if he was sick or died, there was no need even to think of him, but simply have him taken away or sold as an unneeded object. But this centurion was a God-fearing man, and although a pagan by birth, he nevertheless believed in the One God and even built a synagogue for the Jews of that city (i.e. Capernaum). He was also respected by the Jews, which was a rarity in those times.
How kind, nice and modestly simple is this centurion in his appeal to the Lord on behalf of his sick servant. The Lord replies to his request by saying that He will come to his house personally and will heal his servant, but the centurion says to Him: “I am not worthy for Thee to come to me, but say only Thy omnipotent word, and my servant will become well. Even my own subordinates fulfill my commands, while Thou art God, Who has brought forth everything out of nothingness into existence, and with Thy command holds up and rules everything; therefore, even one majestic word from Thee suffices to restrain illness or death: just speak one word, and it will be enough.”
The Lord was amazed at such a firm and active faith on the part of the centurion and said: “Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great a faith even in Israel.”
The Holy Gospel mentions only two cases in which Christ expressed amazement. The first time He was amazed at the faith of the Roman centurion, while the second time He was amazed at the disbelief of the inhabitants of His native city of Nazareth. This is why the Lord grants to this centurion more that the latter had asked for: he came seeking bodily health for his servant, and went back, having received the Kingdom.
“And I say unto you, - continues the Lord, - that many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the Kingdom of Heaven, but the children of the kingdom (i.e. those, who count themselves as such), shall be cast out into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
We all know how the Jews treated Christ, and how the majority of them turned from a God-bearing people into a God-opposing people. In their stead it was the pagans who were all summoned to the Christian faith, including us, and in this manner all the Christians became the new Israel.
Let us thank the Lord from the bottom of our hearts for having summoned us to His faith and for having granted us innumerable bounties together with it: how many saints from among various peoples have shone forth in faith!
Let us firmly hold on to our faith in Christ, the Son of God, and let us try to live in accordance with this faith. Otherwise we will share the fate of the Jews, and we – the new Israel, the sons of the Kingdom, - shall be cast out into outer darkness, where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. “Our Orthodox faith will not save us, - says St. John of Kronstadt, - if we have little faith or lack faith, if we are proud and cruel, gluttonous, unclean, blasphemous, quarrelsome, disobedient, perfidious, lying, disrespectful, lazy, if we do not bear the burdens of each other and help each other in earthly needs.” “Faith without deeds is dead,” – says the holy Apostle James, - and will not save us. Even the demons believe in the Lord and tremble before Him, and yet remain the same as ever, and so are condemned to eternal fire.
Let us test ourselves and see what kind of faith we have – whether it is like the faith of the Roman centurion. For it is such a faith that the Lord Jesus Christ seeks to find among us. There is no rank, high position or noble lineage that can save anyone of its own accord, but we are saved by heartfelt faith, humility and deeds of charity and mercy…
A certain man once came to an elder and said: “What should I do to step upon the path of salvation and to rid myself of the sinful thoughts that overcome me?” The elder replied: “Go to the cemetery, where you will see the graves of those who have long ago departed. Begin to praise them, and listen to what they will say to you. If they do not respond in any way, begin to scold and slander them, and listen to what they will say, and afterwards come back to me.” The man went and did as the elder had told him. “Well, and what did they say to you when you praised them?” – asked the elder. “Nothing at all,” replied the man. “And when you scolded them?” “Also nothing.” Then the elder said to him: “So should you be silent: whether you are praised, or judged, or scolded, just keep silent, and thus you will vanquish your pride, and will rid yourself of evil and condemnation.” This is because pride interferes with true faith. A proud man cannot be a believer. The example of the Roman centurion teaches us this lesson.
Let us always pray to God for ourselves and for others to grant us our wishes – in simplicity and mildness of heart, with firm faith and hope, with heartfelt repentance, with humility and love, - and our faith shall never be shamed.
Let us offer our heartfelt gratitude to Him for granting our requests, entreating His grace not to abandon us henceforth in all the needs for which we will entreat Him.
Thus, let us believe simply, firmly, never doubting that there is anything that is impossible for God and that everything obeys His word. Whether the sun has to be stopped, or the stars extinguished, or mountains moved from place to place, or fire turned to water and vice versa, or water turned to wine, or wine into blood, or stones into people, or a sick man made well, or a dead man resurrected, or a penitent sinner reprieved, or an ignoble and poor man made rich and noble, or a rich man made poor, - everything will take place, did take place and does take place by His word. So let us believe when we pray to God, and we will receive all necessary things according to our faith, and to us, just as to the centurion of the Gospel, the Lord will say: “Go thy way, and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee.”