Sermon for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost (2018)
The Healing of the Two Demon-Possessed Men
The Lord Jesus Christ came swiftly from heaven, unable to contain His ardent love which desires to pour forth all of His goodness upon us. The activity and violence of the demons is strong; but the activity of the very Self-Existing Wisdom, Word and Power of God, leaves no room for the restless vanity of the devil.
Good and evil are not two equally opposing powers, containing the same amount of strength; Goodness is the Personal God Himself; and evil is but a fantasy, a puff of smoke, a dream and a fleeting frenzy, even though it often seems otherwise.
The demons kick and scream, because they cannot get their way. They are hardened in pride, tormented by their own unrepentance, and they love to torment the souls of men, and do not even leave alone the irrational animals who are completely innocent of evil.
But their time is coming closer and closer to an end. They know what the Word of Truth Himself has said, that “the lake of fire is prepared for the devil and his angels.” So the time draws nearer and nearer; their attacks become more vicious and fierce; and they seek to swallow up the whole world with their frenzied way of life.
But, in an instant, in the blink of an eye, quicker than lightning, when the Lord Jesus Christ visits the tormented and sin-laden soul, all evil is dispersed from it, and there is left no perceptible trace of sin’s evil effects; a man is exalted in God’s inner life.
When grace is abundant in the soul of a man, he can move mountains, scale the heights of heaven, penetrate the depths of God’s mysteries, and swim within the limitless and most expansive freedom of the ocean of God’s life of uncreated and endless joy.
Even so, in one instant we can chase grace away. Then we might find ourselves filled with every unclean thing, enslaved to a demonic way of life and a cruel activity; we might become fierce and inhuman, and no man can stand to be around us. Or maybe we have critical and violent thoughts and feelings, chasing away the dove-like gentleness of the grace of the Holy Spirit.
It might be that sometimes we find ourselves as prisoners, enchained to evil, passions, many sins; our heart is hardened, our mind is callously stiffened in self-complacence, blindness and pride; maybe we become agitated, confused, wrathful, irrational; or maybe unclean imaginations and lusts run through our sickened soul and body, or suspicions deceive us and cold-heartedness brings us into a feelingless state of indifference to all.
An endless abyss awaits the demons, and they know it; and they want us to think that this is the only place for us also. They shut our eyes to the glorious wonders of God, His great mercy and unfailing loving-kindness.
We have repentance; demons will never repent. We have a Savior; the demons, even if Christ was crucified for them, would never accept Him. We are granted the grace of ever-ascending and endless joy; but the demons are preparing for themselves an endless abyss of agony and torment which ever-descends into greater despair.
Although there are only two ways, life and death, good and evil, they are not equally as powerful. The All-Good God is not matched by an equally all-evil devil. No! God alone is sovereign.
We behold in the book of Revelation that satan—the one who has puffed up his name among man’s mind, and who boasts about his power—is bound and locked within the abyss. By whom is he bound? By one little angel of God. One angel, when God allows it and grants it, has more power than satan and all his wicked and powerless hosts. But when God allows it, we are tyrannized by the devil, that we might be humbled and come to gain an even greater appreciation of God’s great grace.
Only one instant is needed to repent: one slight turning of the heart, one small groan, one cast of the soul’s eyes to heaven in despair and hopelessness, seeking God; but He alone gives salvation when and how He wills, that we might never forget where it has come from.
We bear within us, within our hearts, both life and death, both good and evil, both the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of satan; at any moment we can turn to God for help and be saved, or we can give license to the demons and be pulled down into self-damnation.
Christ’s first words were: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!” Later, He teaches us: “Say not, ‘Lo! Here; or lo! There; for the Kingdom of God is within you!”
St. Paul, in today’s Epistle also speaks about this. He tells us not to search for Christ in the heights, nor in the depths: “But the Word” of God “is near thee, in thy mouth; that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in thy heart that He is risen from the dead, thou shalt be saved; for, everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved!”
He is telling us the same thing Christ is telling us when He says: “the Kingdom of God is within you!” He tells us that the root of what we are seeking—life, joy and deliverance—is to be found within our very mouth, as we call upon and breathe the sweetening, life-giving and self-acting name of God Who desires more than us our salvation.
Surely the mechanical repetition of the name of Jesus is not enough, although even this has great power if it is all that we can offer and is offered humbly to Christ, Who condescends in His mercy and receives our small sacrifice. But we cannot will ourselves into a state of peace and perfection simply because we drive the name of Christ into our mind and heart. Our part is prayer and patience, and God’s part is grace and salvation and all the rest.
St. Paul adds another criterion to salvation aside from confessing Jesus as Lord with the mouth—that is, faith and hope in our hearts that Christ is alive, ready to act within us.
This faith and hope is found within the heart; and even when our lips and thoughts are utterly exhausted, and our souls are completely weakened by evil, and we cannot even formulate within our hardened heart and barren mind even the slightest good thought or desire, let alone the all-holy name of Jesus Christ—
Even then we can call upon all of His saving power by the faith and hope of the heart, a heart which is bowed low and paralyzed by all manner of evil, which nonetheless has the ability to wordlessly cast itself into the hands of the All-Merciful God.
The practice of the Jesus Prayer and self-recollection are exactly that, practice; but true prayer is found when the whole body and soul are strained beyond their powers, and all of our nerves and every last fiber of our soul seem to cry out in pain unto the Lord Jesus Christ with an unceasing and wordless prayer from the depths of the heart, with tears, deep sighing and a strong hope in the saving power of the Spirit Who alone truly prays within us.
St. Paul says in one of his Epistles: “we had the sentence of death within our own selves, so that we even despaired of life, that we might learn to not trust in our own selves, but in God Who raises the dead, Who has delivered us, delivers us and will deliver us.”
Surely, the greatest afflictions, by the transforming action of Christ’s grace, can be turned into the greatest victories. Surely the greatest falls into every kind of sin can be turned, by humility, repentance, and above all, God’s mercy, into the greatest exaltation.
Christ will suffer with us for a very long time, allowing us to be filled with every kind of sin, wrath, lust and evil passion, just so long that we, in the end, come to rise up again, made more humble and trusting in, not our own power, but in His.
St. John Climacus tells us that humility is like a heavenly siphon, bringing miraculously from the depths of evil unto the heights of heaven the soul which is filled with it by Christ’s mercy.
We cannot save ourselves. We did not create ourselves. We often only destroy ourselves, our relations, our soul, creation and God’s peaceful disposition which He places within us. So how can we obtain the highest virtues—faith, hope, love and humility—without Christ?
“Without Me—says Christ—you can do nothing!” St. Augustine tells us that the words of the Savior, “deny thyself”, mean that we do not place any trust in our own self, but all of it in God, completely denying all our wisdom and strength. Surely, this is a higher understanding of this word of Christ than to interpret it solely in a bodily manner—as if Christ was telling us that to deny oneself only means to fast and deprive oneself of sleep. According to the Holy Fathers these bodily virtues are only tools to help us acquire the inner virtues of the soul. However, they also warn us that if they are used in excess, or with self-trust or vainglory they are worse than gluttony and laziness.
Surely, faith and hope, being eternal virtues according to St. Paul, are spiritual—not bodily—virtues. Surely, the things of the soul are much higher than the things of the body; surely, the virtues of the body are only effectual when they aid us in our struggle to acquire the virtues of the soul.
Christ has created us, and He alone can re-create us. We offer a very small part. Sometimes, we are filled with much passion, and we sin countless times over, we are filled with wrath or lust, our mind is dark, evil thoughts breed within us like creeping snakes and insects; we have not one good thing to be found in our heart; we even cut off every entrance of grace by despair, unrepentance, and cursing ourselves already to hell.
But, even then we can find salvation, or rather, our Salvation, our Savior, Christ, finds us; just like he did in today’s Gospel—coming to men who were completely beside themselves, unable to even think of a better existence. Is not our hope to be found within this merciful visitation of Jesus to these two possessed men?
In an instant, these men—who were living houses of demons, walking abysses of incarnate hell, and poor slaves to wicked satan—in an instant, they were completely transformed by the self-existing power of Christ, and their whole life proclaimed the Gospel!
We know those well-known words: “Be still, and know that I am God.” The Hebrew word for God means the Almighty One. Therefore, the Lord is speaking to us in this psalm at our moment of strong trial: “be still, and come to humility by the realization of your complete weakness; and then, and only then, will you come to know Me, and that I alone am the Almighty God!”
The Lord proclaims this in Deuteronomy: “See now, see that I AM, and there is no god beside Me. I will kill, and I will make alive; I will smite, and I will heal!” Many—through falsely-called theology—pry arrogantly into the mystery which exists between God’s sovereignty and man’s free-will. Such people wonder in vain, completely missing the point.
But the simple soul which approaches God without any wisdom of its own, will behold the wretched condition that its wayward will has brought it to; and, casting its weakness into the almighty hands of God, this one will behold the miracle of God’s great mercy and power, resurrecting the one who could not even begin to think to ask for such a complete transformation of soul! And then waves of true theology from the living experience of God will pour forth from such a man.
In as much as we did not bring our selves from non-existence into being, so much more we cannot bring ourselves from the dark false existence of sin into the life of God. And in as much as we cannot raise our own body from the dead when the breath of our soul leaves us, so much more can we not raise our souls out of the evil death of sin without the mighty intercession of the Spirit.
When God whittles us down, and scrapes—by means of demons, passions and afflictions—all the coarseness and sin from out of our soul, then He is not slow in also impregnating our heart with hope in Him alone; and then He brings us as He wills to salvation:
Not only the soul, but also the body with it, is baptized from the inside out, from the depths of the heart, where Christ is, unto all the senses of our soul and body. From the superabundance of Christ’s radiance and joy, waves of grace wash us clean and empower us with a vigor unknown to natural man, and pouring forth from us we send out light and fragrance to all the world.
If we find ourselves overwhelmed by much evil, and the abyss of hell seems to open up within us, and if we come to despair even of life, as even the great Apostle Paul did, then let us take heart; for, paradoxical as it may seem, we are traversing the apostolic way, and thus the way of Christ.
St. Paul says, “If only in this life we have hope in Christ, then we are of all men the most miserable!” But we know that even if this whole brief earthly life of ours is filled with nothing but pain and sorrow, Christ is preparing an even greater and more glorious dwelling place in heaven for us.
With this saving hope, let us fix our whole mind and heart upon Christ, always watching and waiting for Him to appear at His second and glorious coming. For, those who await Him and hope in Him are always being made more like God. For, as the beloved Apostle says: “When He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself even as He is pure.
When we become heedless, we are ruined by sin; and affliction overtakes us; but when we are afflicted, then we can find our heart, for the heart is found in the ability to feel, and pain is the most noticeable feeling; and then Christ can easily manifest Himself to us, for He dwells in the depths of the heart; and when He reveals Himself, nothing and no one can be against us. Amen.
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