Sunday 24 after Pentecost

Luke 8:26-38

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.

In today’s Gospel reading, Saint Luke tells us that the man possessed by demons had demons for a long time, and had been sick for many years, and therefore had become well known in the whole region. This madman lived in the tombs, wandering in the wilderness, terrorizing the people in the fields and on the roads. Saint Nikolai Velimirovich tells us in his homily on this Gospel that the devil used this man as his weapon to bring other men to destruction, for it is the chief characteristic of men who have been possessed by demons to work only destruction and wickedness. This man was stripped of every good thing, even his physical clothing. Along with his physical nakedness, his soul was not clothed in any good thing, that is any gifts of the Spirit, but was utterly naked and empty of good. And just as the saints encourage us and help us when we read their lives and their words, so also do those influenced by the demons influence us with temptations.

The Holy Fathers tell us that when the demons in this man encountered Jesus, they did not react with joy or pleasure, but rather with fear and horror, seeing their Judge before them. They had been keeping this name of Jesus secret from among the people of the town and did their best to erase His name from men’s hearts. They said, “What have we to do with Thee, Jesus Son of God?” These demons ask Christ why He has come to them to “torment them before the time.” They are expecting the hour of judgment and torment at the end of time, but Christ now appearing before them is a torment itself, more tormenting than light to a mole, or fire to a spider.

This Gospel is a very serious one and it has a very serious message for us. The demons are real and they enter into man when they are given permission, when they are given the possibility, for God allows them to roam around, because of men’s sins. If we were to imagine how it happens that men become demon possessed, we could probably say that it doesn’t happen all at once, although it could for sure. But it happens, we know, by making little choices day in and day out that open us up to the demons. This is where we must realize that the so-called little choices we make every day can either open us up to God’s grace or open us to the working of the demons. Saint Isaac the Syrian tells us “on that Day of Judgment, we will not be judged because we did not say our prayers, or use the gifts of the Church, but that in not doing so, we have opened ourselves up to the demons.” And so, we need to take our obediences very seriously, and not lightly. For truly, the devil is a body’s destroyer. Saint Nikolai goes on to give this description of the madman in today’s Gospel: “Through the body, as if on a staircase, the devil crawls into the soul and seizes on a man’s heart and mind, until he has completely devoured him, disfigured him and emptied him of divine beauty and purity, of understanding and righteousness, of love and faith, of hope in good and desire for good.” Notice in this Gospel how it is not said that the man saw Christ and recognized Him, named Him, or conversed with Him, but this was all done by the demons within Him.

And so, we also see from today’s epistle reading that the fruit of the Holy Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, which virtues are the extreme opposite of the man mentioned in today’s Gospel. So, we see 2 extremes: demon possession and saintliness. And, to the extent that we are following Christ and inviting His Holy Spirit into our lives, is the extent that we will fall on one side or the other. For those who are Christ’s, have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires, and as Orthodox Christians we are given many opportunities to say no to our wants and desires, by the appointed fasts of the Church, by saying no to that movie so that we make time for prayer, by giving up our wants for the wants of our spouse or our friends, in order that we may please them. And if giving up these things hurts, then something is right, for it is only with great difficulty that the saints overcame their passions and desires, yet they knew the gifts of grace that would grant them true peace and true joy.

When the demons in this man ask Christ to cast them out, take notice that they do not asked to be “cast out of the man” but rather to just be “cast out.” The man, made in the image of God, had become so dead to them, that they do not even mention his name. The Lord Jesus, on the contrary says, “Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit.” For man is so precious to God.

O Lord Jesus Christ, who loves us so very much, and never imposes Himself on us, yet desires our healing, save us who pray to thee. To thee be glory and praise, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages, AMEN.