Help My Unbelief

(Originally posted in Facebook in December, 2014.)

Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out for fear.

But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.’

And Peter answered Him and said, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’

So He said, ‘Come.’ And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried out, saying ‘Lord, save me!’

Matthew 14:25-30

_____

There was a young woman in Egypt named Mary. Mary enjoyed having sex, and, though men offered her money for her favors, she declined, often earning her keep by working.

When Mary heard that there would be a big holiday at an important Christian church in Jerusalem, she caught a ride on a ship heading that way to check it out. On board the ship during the journey, Mary was popular with the male travelers.

When she arrived at the church, Mary tried to enter to see what was going on. However, at the door, she felt a Presence that kept her from entering. Looking up at an icon of the Virgin Mary, Mary asked to be permitted to enter, and, in exchange, she would do as the Virgin Mary then directed. Now she was able to pass inside, and, afterwards, she left the temple and was led out into deserted places.

There she spent decades. Many years she spent struggling with her own sinful desires. However, little by little, she overcame these.

One day, a monk, Father Zosima, was wandering in the deserted places. Off in the distance, he saw a figure moving. This could be a little frightening, as it has been widely believed that deserted places are the stomping grounds of evil spirits. So, apprehensively, the monk approached the figure.

At a discrete distance, the figure indicated that she was a woman. As she did not have any clothing, she asked the monk for his cloak. This he placed on the ground, and then withdrew to allow the woman an opportunity to put the cloak on. Once she was clothed, Father Zosima approached her.

It turned out the woman’s name was Mary. Mary recounted to the monk her story, about her sinful youth, about how she was permitted to enter the church, and about how she was then taken by the Holy Spirit to live in the desert. Father Zosima was amazed at this woman who was illiterate and who had never studied, yet who knew the Holy Scriptures flawlessly.

Mary asked the monk to bring her communion on the bank of the Jordan River the following year at sunset on Holy Thursday. On the appointed day, Father Zosima met her as they had arranged, then gave her communion. Mary asked him to meet her again one year thence, at the location where he had first seen her, then turned and, making the sign of the cross, walked across the Jordan River as if it were dry land!

Later, Father Zosima went to where he had first encountered Mary, and found her dead. He began to dig a grave for her, but became tired. Then, a lion arrived. Seeing the lion, the monk was understandably worried, but the lion began to dig, and finished preparing the grave for Mary.
________

When Peter asked Jesus to command him to walk on water, Peter did so not to participate in a miracle, but to be with Jesus. Jesus obliged, and Peter walked on water, but only as long as his focus was on Jesus. The moment Peter took his focus off Jesus and considered his surroundings, he began to sink. Of course, Jesus saved him.

We want to work miracles, but we can’t do it alone. God is able to work miracles, but He won’t necessarily do so. However, when we are willing to work with God, God works miracles through us, and sometimes these miracles can be pretty spectacular.

We need to try to keep our focus on God, and not on earthly concerns. And, we can ask His help to keep this focus on Him. But, if we get distracted by earthly concerns, we may find that we begin to feel overwhelmed, not just sinking in our troubles, but drowning in them. After all, if Saint Peter can begin to sink – Saint Peter! – then how much faster would you and I go down?

Saint Mary of Egypt offers us a couple of examples, though. Mary had been a sinner with whom I am not proud to say that I can identify. However, the Lord worked with her to such an extent, that she was able to walk across water as if it were land.

The Lord’s mercy is open to all, and that mercy includes miracles which we can’t even imagine.

But, we have to be willing to work with Him.

And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’

Matthew 14:31

And, we have to believe.

Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!

Mark 9:24

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