St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

This is Synergy

Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (9:27-35)

As you know, I have been interested in the metaphorical and psychological interpretations of scripture for a long time and the more I look, the more I see. It’s impossible not to view the Gospels differently with the Internal Family Systems training I am going through. It sheds new light on everything and makes the readings come alive in ways I have never seen before.

What is remarkable to me is how Jesus works with the people he meets. He is interested in them and their lives. He asks questions to get a better picture of what each person needs.  He brings things out of them things that need to be brought to the surface before he heals them. Often he asks for and receives their permission to do his work before he works his miracles.

Today the two blind men ask for mercy. Jesus in return asks the two blind men if they believe he is able to heal them. They tell him yes. Whatever doubts or suspicions they might have had step to the side and faith takes the lead. The faithful part in them steps forward.  Whatever in them that does not have faith steps back.

Many of us cling tightly to life as it is for fear of the changes that would come if we let go of our distress. People often come to love their misery.  Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.”  If we want to hold on to our blindness and misery, we can. There is usually a part of us that wants to. God will never circumvent our will. 

The hidden agenda behind the dialogues between the Lord and the people he meets is to evoke both the resistance and the faith in them.  Every part is invited to participate in healing because if one part remains untouched, then the healing will not be complete. Jesus excludes nothing and no one in his mission to liberate humanity.

Think of the episode of the man with the epileptic son who cries out, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.”  Here we see two parts speaking, unbelief and belief.  Two parts at war with each other. The man was wonderful in his honesty and he is rewarded.  Unbelief speaks first and then belief and then it is belief that takes the lead. Jesus respects the whole process. He does not rebuke the father’s unbelief, the Lord answers the father’s request to help his unbelief. The unbelieving part is able to step back as faith rises and his son is healed. The father’s unbelief is healed as well as his son.

In IFS this faithful part is called “Self energy.”  We could call it that too because it is none other than the energy of the true Self, the image of God, we are seeing.  We might just as easily call it “the Spirit of God.” Not sure you buy it?  I love the holy Elder Thaddeus and his teachings. He says:  “Every soul is born holy…everything is holy, little and big, everything has holy life, divine energy, because life is God’s energy.”  God’s energy, life, faith, is what rises in the blind men and in the father.  This rising of the True Self  is the beginning of all divine transformation.

 “Be it done to you according to your faith,” is another way of saying, “The power of faith is in you and that is what you need.”  I believe Jesus came to help us unlock the very power he (in whom, for whom, and by whom) all things were created, planted in the very core of our being to begin with.  Faith is our common inheritance and is a divine energy given to all.

Another example is in St. Paul’s Letter to Romans in the passage from chapter 7, “I will to do what’s right, but I cannot do it. For I do not the good I want, but the evil I do not.” Again, we see two parts. The will to do what is right and the will to do the opposite. Herman Hesse, of STEPPENWOLF fame, expressed it like this: “I wanted only to try to live in accord with my true Self. Why was that so very difficult?”

You see, it is not “I”, the True Self that does bad things. The “I” is the image of God, Christ in us, the true Self, that wills only good. The “sin that dwells within”, are those parts in us that cover the true Self like a protective cloak.  Where do they come from? Let’s just say right now that all of these parts develop and operate because of fear.  .  St. Maximus the Confessor confirms this when he boils down the problem of sin to one thing: the fear of death.  And what was the Cross and Resurrection about after all but to free us from the fear of death?

In truth, their intention is to protect us from what we fear and often in ways that are not helpful or healthy.  They mean well, but often do not do well. They are not bad parts, they are good parts that are coerced into doing unhealthy jobs. This points to the fact that there are imbalances in our internal lives.

The point I want to make is that there is an internal struggle in all of us between the True Self and our other parts.  The spiritual life, including Confession and other sacraments, and everything else, is meant to help calm the internal war, to bring everything in us into harmony by allowing the image of God, the true Self, the life-energy of God, to lead as it was always meant to do through the ups and downs of life.  What happens when faith rises and leads the way? Let’s let St. Symeon the New Theologian answer that for us. Clearly, he knew about these different parts and the need to bring them all to Christ.

…open your heart to Him

and let yourself receive the one
who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love Him,
we wake up inside Christ's body

where all our body, all over,
every most hidden part of it,
is realized in joy as Him,
and He makes us, utterly, real,

and everything that is hurt, everything
that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
maimed, ugly, irreparably
damaged, is in Him transformed

and recognized as whole, as lovely,
and radiant in His light
he awakens as the Beloved
in every last part of our body.

When the energy of the True Self is set free and the power of the Holy Spirit is allowed to rise in us, every part is transformed and we are filled with peace, fear is destroyed and the power of God begins to flow freely inside us and outside us like the living water Jesus promised.  This water heals everything it touches. It is a collaborative process.  It is synergy.  It is the abundant life. It is the kingdom of heaven. It is the kind of healing we all need.