The Great St. John Chrysostom and “the Serbian Chrysostom,” St. Nikolai Velomirovich, whom we often hear in trapeza, offer us concise, exegetical explanations of today’s Gospel, and of all the Gospel readings; explaining word-by-word, verse-by-verse, both the historical import of the Scriptures, and the spiritual import they carry for the purification of our souls and bodies, and our salvation and deification in Christ.
I will leave to them this detailed explanation, and continue to try to offer a few thoughts on today’s Gospel reading, which will be profitable in a practical and spiritual manner.
St. Paul explains that all of the Scriptures—both Old and New—have been written for our edification and consolation. St. Maximus the Confessor, writing to his beloved friend, St. Thalassius, explains that it is beyond question that the things which both the Old and New Testament relay have already taken place historically; but that we, who are seeking the salvation of our souls, need to enter into the contemplation of their inner meaning, so that we might enter into the reality which is ever taking place within human souls in relation to God and His creation.
What are the practical and spiritual principles we need to learn from today’s Gospel? There are many, but here are a few:
In today’s Gospel we hear of a certain man; of Jesus; of Jesus’s disciples; and most importantly, of this certain man’s son. The son is extremely oppressed by a demon. The demon casts him into fire and water. The disciples cannot heal him. So, the man brings his son to Jesus.
The man represents the inner man of each and every one of us. He is an icon of each and every person here, endowed with a unique creation, a unique relation to God, a unique birth, history, personality, consciousness, identity, freedom, individuality, and physical-psychological-spiritual makeup—determined by both the events and happenings of their life, and their own self-determined thoughts, actions, reactions, learning, words, prayer, and relation to God, themselves, and others.
The son represents the soul of each and every person here. The father in the Gospel is the unique person of each of us—the deep and unrepeatable, unique and personally conscious, spiritual heart of each of us.
The son is the totality of each of our souls—the power to think, feel, desire, will, act, freely-choose, move, sense, be, and pray. This son is sick. Our souls are sick with sin, passion, evil thoughts, twisted knots of complex habits, dispositions, reactions, predispositions, thought-processes, and emotions, acquired over a long period of time. Nature and nurture have influenced us; but self-determined, freely-chosen thoughts, words, actions, and behavior have formed us into the particular individuals we find ourselves to be at this very moment.
When we hear tell of Jesus, like the father in today’s Gospel, we come forth from the crowd of the multitude of our constant barrage of thoughts, feelings, desires, and actions; we come forth from the swirling confusion of this world. When we hear of Jesus—when we remember Him, His importance in our lives, the fact that He is the center around which our existence revolves, the reason we are alive, the purpose of our coming into being; when we recollect that He is our Very Life—whether through hearing or reading the words of the Scriptures or the Fathers, or being shamed by our conscience, or woken up from a jolting experience, or corrected and humbled by the life or words of our brothers and sisters—
When we hear of Jesus, as the father in today’s Gospel, we seek to return to Him, we seek to come to Him, to converse with Him, to see Him, to feel the marvelous power of His presence. Then we turn to Him in prayer, in humility, kneeling down before Him in body and soul and mind, as the father in today’s Gospel.
We also have our plea. We have our own particular supplication. We have our own needs and desires. We pray to Jesus: “Lord Jesus, have mercy on my son—that is, on my soul—for it is sorely vexed by impure spirits, by demons; it is rent asunder by passions, pains, sins, and every sort of thing which separates me from Thee, from Thy love!”
We cry out to Christ when we find Him, that is, when we again remember His presence—His omnipresence—which swallows up every fiber of our soul and body in an incomprehensible sea of love, providence, care, particular guidance and judgment and direction over our lives, always adapting to our numerous and wayward thoughts, feelings, words, actions, relationships, and dispositions. He is always adapting His providence and care to our particularly-chosen state of soul, ever seeking to guide us to salvation, healing, purity, illumination, and union and friendship with Himself and all men. He is ever guiding the whole world in its totality, knitting together every particular person and moment in a harmonious and divine and unknowable and marvelous manner, seeking to enfold all within Himself, into His own heart and life and eternal blessedness.
Encountering this powerful Guide, again remembering Him and His love for us, we cry out to Him: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on my son—that is, on my soul, which is vexed by all manner of evil! For I am grievously tormented by the demons; ever cast into the fire and into the water. I am constantly singed, burned, and wholly consumed by the fires of passion, lustful desire, anger, irritation, jealousy, envy, arrogance, hatred, resentment, judgment, and remembrance of wrongs.”
“And I am ever plunged into the chilling waters of vainglory, man-pleasing, self-satisfaction, self-congratulation, conceit, and pride, which chill my soul to love of God and others. I am ever drowned in the self-pitying nursing of my own pains; forgetfulness and insensibility to the pains of others; the fulfillment of sensual pleasures and egotistical self-reassurances which blot out the fire of my longing for Thee, O Jesus, and the fervent love of Thine image, all mankind.”
These are the cries of the one who sees and senses and feels with their whole soul the depths of the poverty of their own spiritual state. When we find ourselves in such a state, we cry out and complain to the Lord that we appealed to His disciples, but found no help or cure for ourselves. That is, we have turned to our own reasoning and will-power, the dominant powers of our God-like soul which are disciples and followers of the Lord, but we have found no healing for the depths of our depravity. Our thoughts are swallowed up by muteness, lack of prayer, lack of prudence, knowledge, and salvific direction for our lives. And our will-power has become misdirected, exhausted on evil, deadened, ineffectual, and non-existent.
Likewise, we have turned to other people—to friends, to family, to loved ones, to doctors, to psychologists, to therapists, and even to spiritual fathers—but we have reaped no cure for our souls, no deep healing for our spiritual poverty, depravity, wounds, and deformities.
The Lord is trying to teach us to “put not our trust in princes nor in the sons of men,” as we hear at every Liturgy. Not that others are evil, nor that we turn away from all in self-isolation and mistrust and suspicion, nor that we might think that others cannot be sacramental mediators of the grace and healing of God, but that we might never forget the One from Whom comes all healing and salvation, the Source of life, the Creator of all, the Savior and Healer and Renewer of all, God the Holy Trinity.
If we find ourselves bereft of human sympathy and understanding; if we find that all the powers of our body, mind, and soul are exhausted and depleted and ineffectual; if we feel ourselves to have come to the abyss of despair and utter confusion; then let us take heart!
Let us come to Christ, let us call on Him! Let us realize that He has been planted within the depths of our hearts through Holy Baptism, and that we are ever transformed into His image through Holy Communion, and that we are constantly renewed, forgiven, healed, and granted a new start through Holy Confession and Absolution.
If we find ourselves bereft of self-sufficiency and human help, then let us take heart that our Good and All-Loving God is seeking to make us more aware of His heavenly life, of His help, of His grace, of His uncreated, ever-existing, all-joyous, never-fading, ever-increasing life of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which has no end, never disappoints, never leaves hungry or thirsty, poor or naked, burned by the fire of passion or drowned by the waters of sin and despair.
To God, our Life, our Hope, our Only Consolation—to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—be all praise, worship, love, adoration, humility, and prayer, both now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen!