|42 - The Gadarene Demoniacs, July 17, 2011|
Matthew 8:28- 9:1
This morning’s Gospel clearly prefigures the death and resurrection of Christ when He destroys death by His death and gives life to those in the tombs. He got into the boat. This would be the flesh of His body, the Church. And, in the boat, in the flesh of His body, the Church, He passed over the sea. This would be the sea of death. He came into the beyond. This would be hell, as is clearly indicated from the fact that He steps onto the shore of a cemetery. There He is met by two men in torment because they are in bondage to demons. They are prisoners of the tombs, prisoners of death. And no one is able to deliver them.
We are reading this Gospel as we draw near to the close of the liturgical year of the Church and the Dormition of the Theotokos. It shows us that we draw near to the Dormition of the Theotokos and prepare to pass over “to the other side” of her Falling Asleep, if you will, in the boat of Christ’s Holy Pascha.
At this time of the liturgical year, the Church seems to shine the light of Christ’s Holy Pascha directly onto the saints in whom God loves to rest. As we leave Pentecost and make our way to the Falling Asleep of the Theotokos, we celebrate all the saints, not only those known to us but also those known only to God. In this liturgical setting, our Sunday morning Scripture lessons become lessons on how we can become saints ourselves. In the sacraments of the Church, we have been graciously given the talent of the Holy Spirit. This morning we have another lesson teaching us how to “invest” that talent, how to put it to work so that it grows powerfully in us to make us dead to death, dead to the world that is passing away, and alive to God as children of God, as saints in the image and likeness of God.
This morning’s Gospel dramatically shows that the Pascha of the Lord has come to be at the center of everything. His deliverance of these two demoniacs of the Gadarenes was an historical event that occurred in space-time. But, it is also a theological event with a spiritual substance that spills out over and beyond its historical moment because the subject of this moment is the incarnate Word of God (the “Logos Theou” in whom all things were made and in whom all things are held together. Each historical moment of His historical time on earth encompasses all moments of past, present and future. And this moment when He steps onto the shores of the Gadarenes and delivers these men from the demons and from the tombs is in its hidden spiritual substance one with the moment of His death on the Cross. In that historical moment of the Cross, Christ leaves the limitations of space-time. He descends into hell and there He encounters face to face all the dead who have ever lived. As by the Word of His command to the demons tormenting these two men, so also by His death on the Cross and His descent into hell He exposes hell to heaven. He Who is Himself the true Light that shines in the darkness illumines the regions of hell dark and deep with the uncreated light of God; and so He has transformed hell as He transformed the tombs of the Gadarenes into the antechamber of Heaven. And, in His resurrection, He delivers those who were in the tombs from death, as He delivered these two men of the Gadarenes from the torment of the demons.
In His deliverance of these two demoniacs of the Gadarenes, Christ accomplishes on earth, in space-time history what He accomplishes in hell that is beyond space-time history. This is what I see that leads me to say that this Gospel is showing us that Christ’s Holy Pascha has become the root both of history that is on this side of death and of the eternal that is on the other side of the grave. Heaven and earth, the temporal and the eternal, the material and the immaterial, everything is united in Christ in His Holy Pascha. Having made even death subject under His feet, Christ has truly become the root of all things. He is the seed in whom the new heaven and earth blossom into the uncreated life and light of God.
We become saints as we participate in this all-encompassing mystery of Christ’s Holy Pascha. Already, by the mysteries of holy Baptism and Chrismation, the mystery of Christ’s Cross and the glory of His Resurrection have been sown in our soul and in our body at the core of our being. We have been rooted in the Pascha of Christ. Our baptism is that moment in the history of our personal lives when we are united, like the Gadarene demoniacs, in our inner and outer aspects to the moment of Christ’s death on the Cross and we enter in the fear of God, with faith and love into the loving embrace of His outstretched arms. Immersed in the living waters of the Holy Spirit that flow from His side, our sins are washed away. Rooted in His death, our death becomes for us the narthex, the vestibule through which we pass over into heaven. Our personal history in space-time is now united to the theological history of Christ. Our earthly life is united to the life of Christ and opens onto eternity at the point of His Cross. Rooted in the eternal life of Christ’s Heavenly Spirit, we take up our cross every day, every hour, every moment to lose our worldly life for the sake of Christ and His Holy Gospel and we follow Christ in the practice of His holy commandments. In this, the trials and afflictions of this life become the testing and the purifying of our faith which is proved to be more precious than silver or gold because by faith, we are united to God in love and it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us.
This morning’s Gospel, then, is calling out to us to unite ourselves to Christ, to make our daily life into a hidden participation in the mystery of Christ’s Holy Pascha. This directs us to the inner doctrine of the Church, which teaches us how to take up our cross. It directs us to the ascetic disciplines of the Church, both the outer and the inner disciplines of prayer and fasting, so that in both the historical and eternal aspects of our life we are uniting ourselves to Christ, participating in His Holy Pascha by putting death to death in us, crucifying our love of sin, our love for the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life that are of the world that is passing away, so that we may be resurrected in the Spirit of Christ who is eternal, so that we are participating not in death but in God.
Where do we learn this inner doctrine of the Church? From the Church. It is the teaching that has been handed down from the Savior to His disciples, and from His disciples to their disciples, from spiritual elder to disciple over the generations in the sacramental setting of repentance or confession and Holy Eucharist when we are granted to become not just in theory but in bodily, concrete reality “partakers of the divine nature.” This hidden, inner doctrine of the Church is reflected in such texts as the Philokalia; but one cannot learn this inner doctrine simply by reading. One needs to be in communion with the Church and in a personal relationship with the Church through the hierarchs, the abbots and abbesses, and the spiritual masters of the Church, the startsi or geronti. For, the life of the Christian Faith is not of this world. It is not an abstraction or a school of thought with propositions one can master as one does the theorems of geometry. It is the mystery of personal communion rooted in the personal love of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God who became flesh and dwelt among us. What He gave to His disciples, what He gives to His Church is not just a teaching of ideas and concepts in words. He gives Himself personally to us in the mystery of the Holy Spirit, the Heavenly Spirit that we receive when we partake of Holy Eucharist. Christ is received, that is to say, personally, not abstractly; through personal relationship, not through intellectual dialectic.
He gives Himself to us personally in His commandments. His Holy commandments, as words that come from Him who is the Word of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, are soaked in the living waters of His Holy Spirit. So, if we practice the commandments of Christ, our daily life in this world becomes moistened by the living waters of the Holy Spirit. And, as we participate in the mystery of Christ’s Holy Pascha in the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church, our daily life gets woven into the personal mystery of Christ. It becomes a mystical participation in the Person of Christ, so that our life in this world is centered no more on the holidays, the sporting events and political happenings of the world but on the personal mystery of the light and life of Christ. Our earthly lives begin to open onto heaven as we die to death and begin to live in the life of God. The sufferings and afflictions of this life are united to Christ’s cross and are transfigured into the very means by which we are crucified to the world, and the joy of Christ’s Holy Resurrection begins to shine in the words, in the actions, and in the eyes of our faces.
May the grace of the Holy Spirit illumine and sanctify us and grant us even here and now, as it did to the men of the Gadarenes, a foretaste of the joy, of the light and the love of God’s eternal life that is promised to those who love Christ and who take up their cross to follow Him. Amen.