|41 - Gadarenes, July 9, 2017|
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Jesus our LORD and Savior is God the WORD who remains and who always is even as the earth and the heavens wax old as a garment and perish (Ps 101:26-27 LXX). Becoming flesh of the Holy Spirit and the Most Blessed Virgin, He united time and eternity, earth and heaven, the outer and the inner. Therefore, the history of Jesus is deified history; each hour of His life in the flesh opens onto eternity. In the Church, we step into Christ’s Body, the fullness of Him who is all in all (Eph 1:23), and so we step into the mystery of His Incarnation. Here, all He did and said are present to us Today because Christ is present to us Today; He is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega, He Who Is, Who Was, Who Is To Come, the Pantacrator (Rev 1:8).
All of this is to explain how the event in this morning’s Gospel is present to us today in its inner reality.
Indeed, we can see beneath the aer of the particulars of this morning‘s Gospel the whole mystery of the LORD’s Incarnation. It says He got into a boat (8:23) to cross over the sea. Is this the firmament that separates the heavens and the earth? (Gn 1:6ff.) A great earthquake happened in the sea, it says (8:24), just as a great earthquake happened at the moment of His death on the Cross when the curtain of the Temple is rent opened and the graves are opened (think Eze 37:1f). Here is the shape of His self-emptying and conception in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. She is the mystery of the “boat”. His crossing over the sea in the boat tells us that we’re in the cosmic mystery of God becoming man; the great earthquake tells us that already, even in His conception and birth of the Virgin, the ruler of the power of the air (Eph 2:1) is greatly disturbed. This is no mundane event. It is, rather, an aer that veils the mystery of the LORD’s Pascha.
He came into “the beyond, into the land of the Gadarenes,” it says. Here, I want to point out how “He came into the ‘beyond’” has the shape of ek-stasis. I.e., He “came out of Himself.” He emptied Himself (cf. Phil 2:5-11), He denied Himself, got into the “boat” of the All-Holy Virgin and became flesh. Note, then, that He comes into the land of the Gadarenes and directly to the tombs.
This self-emptying ekstasis of the Savior corresponds to the ekstasis that took hold of the myrrh-bearing women as they fled the Tomb of His Resurrection (Mk 16:8). Can we say that this tells us how we “come” into the sacred “land” of the LORD’s deified history and meet Him (cf. v. 28) face to face? We deny ourselves in order to come out of ourselves into the “beyond”, into our heart that is “beyond all things” (Jer 17:5/9 LXX), and into the ekstasis of the LORD’s Resurrection. We come into the LORD’s Pascha in the mystery of His Body, the Church, and only as we deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Him as did His disciples (8:23) to His Tomb, the baptismal font of the Church and into our heart that is “beyond” all things, i.e. “outside” the city or the world
Luke’s Gospel explicitly says that He came out onto the earth and was immediately (8:27) “met”, or rather “set upon” by the demoniacs. Here, we see the shape of His birth from the Virgin and the whole of His earthly life. As soon as He is born of the Virgin, as soon as His infant feet step out onto the earth, He is set upon by Herod, then by the devil directly when He comes out of the waters of the Jordan and is led by the Spirit into the wilderness, and then by the religious leaders of the Jews as soon as He begins His ministry until He is put to death on the Cross by both the religious and political rulers of the world.
This morning’s Gospel concludes with the whole city coming out to “meet” Him. These are the very words that describe how the two demoniacs came out from the tombs to “meet” Jesus. Everyone in this morning’s Gospel, then, comes face to face with the incarnate God, and they do so at the tombs, as we all will do at our death, and as everyone will do on the Last Day. But the demoniacs, like the thief on the Cross, coming out to meet Jesus face to face receive Him, and they are saved: they are set free from the power of the demons and healed so that they no longer live in the tombs. Even they, then, like St Dismas, the Good Thief, receive the power to become children of God and are found Today with the LORD in Paradise.
The townspeople look like those who are of the world, whose names are not written in the Book of Life of the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8), because they come out to meet Him face to face in order to beg Him to leave their country. He came to His own, the world He created, and they received Him not (Jn 1:11). Here is the “history” of the Church – the presence in the world Today of the Risen and Glorified God incarnate – in the world up to today and the end of time.
Finally, the LORD enters the boat and returns to His own city. Here is the LORD’s Holy Pascha. He enters into His boat, the tomb of our heart. He returns to His own city. He is raised from the dead, He ascends in Glory to Heaven, His “own city”.
Why do the demoniacs receive Him? Why do the townspeople, the inhabitants of the world, reject Him? Here, I think, we stand outside the Church Doors as on Pascha Night, choosing either to enter into the inner mystery of the Church illumined by scores of candles burning with the Holy Fire – or not, in order to return to the darkness of our worldly life.
It occurs to me that apart from a few broad indications in the Psalms and the prophets and St Peter’s second epistle, Holy Scripture does not tell us the story of Jesus’ descent into hell. I think this morning’s Gospel may be that story; i.e., its outward shape shows what the unseen mystery of the LORD’s descent into hell – and, for that matter, what the unseen reality of our baptism – looked like. More than that, however, it shows us the spiritual warfare going on behind the cultured façade of the world’s soul. We get indications of it in the news. But, even in those around us, as we get to know them beyond the masks they wear, we begin to catch glimpses of such brokenness and suffering both psychological and spiritual as well as physical that one wonders how the world doesn’t collapse and perish in the stench of its underlying darkness.
Our Gospel shows the demons dwelling first in the demoniacs in the tombs, then in the swine. Swine are “unclean”, worshipped in antiquity as emblems of pagan gods, and so they represent the idols the townspeople worship, the inhabitants of the earth whose names are not written in the Book of Life. When the demons realize the LORD has come into their land, hell, they want to go out into the world, let’s say, to dwell in the swine, the idols men worship, because they have a kinship with them. The swineherds, then, are keepers of idols; idolatry is what they walk in; idols are what they live for. When the demons enter the swine, they all rush for the abyss and they perish. Might we say, then, that wherever the demons dwell is a tomb or an abyss, a place of uncleanness and death? The fate of the swine, perhaps we can say, is the fate of those who keep swine, i.e., who give themselves to idols, because the demons dwell in them and the energy that works in them is “oriented” westward: from the tombs into the abyss – from death into hell.
St Paul says: “When you were dead in your sins and trespasses, you were walking in them according to the age of this world, according to the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit who is working even now in the sons of disobedience” (Eph 2:1-2). If the demons dwell in the air, well, where in the air? For, our Gospel this morning indicates that the demons don’t like to live out in the “open”. Might we say, from indications in the holy fathers, that the air they dwell in is our thoughts? And do we not walk, i.e. live according to our thoughts; so that “our thoughts govern our lives”? So, if we feed our thoughts with impure images and fantasies and wishful thinking, are we not giving our thoughts over to unclean swine or to idolatry – covetousness, anger, lust, greed? Are we therefore not swineherds, making ourselves kin to the demons, and so attracting them to come and dwell in us? And when they do come and dwell in us, we will not be seized by the ekstasis of the LORD’s Pascha but by the ecstasy of sensual desires that will impel us toward the abyss and to the destruction of our relationships, our health, our happiness, our peace and calm, making our heart a tomb so that we are made to be dead in the sins and trespasses of our idolatry.
St Paul in his epistle this morning calls on us to emulate not the townspeople and the swineherds but the demoniacs: If you confess with your mouth, he says, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead you will be saved. Outwardly with your mouth and inwardly in your heart give your mind to the incarnate God who descended into the tomb of your heart and raised you from death to life, and whose death-destroying and life-creating WORD is near you, in your mouth and in your heart in the dread mystery of your holy baptism that made you no more a swineherd but disciple of Christ. So, fulfill the oath of your baptism and walk, live, not as a swineherd but as a disciple of the LORD Jesus. Come out to meet Him in order to receive Him. Enter the doors of His Holy Temple, His Body, the Church illumined by candles burning with the Holy Fire! Come into the mystery of His Holy Pascha and let the saving power of His WORD, working in you as a child of obedience, impel you upward into His Heavenly Kingdom of Light.
Amen! Most holy Theotokos, save us! Glory to Jesus Christ!