|05 - Gerasene Demoniac, Nov 1, 2015|
In two weeks, we take up the Fast of St Phillip as our cross to prepare for Advent, the coming of the Savior. This makes this morning’s Gospel an “Advent” Gospel. And, indeed, it proclaims the coming of the Savior to earth (v. 26), and then it shows us how to prepare for His coming that we might receive Him and become children of God as did this morning’s demoniac.
I’m sure the Church knows the name of this demoniac and his subsequent story, given perhaps in some old Synaxarion. I bet he died as a martyr. But, St Luke does not give us his name or his subsequent story. Rather, he introduces him to us as a “certain” man, i.e. “Everyman.” By this, we are directed to see ourselves in him as in a mirror to shake us out of our complacency and spiritual conceit and to get serious about preparing ourselves for the coming of the LORD on Christmas.
Let’s look first at the swine. Swine were worshiped as sacred emblems of certain gods in the ancient Near East. And, the boar’s head was the standard of several Roman legions (cf. v. 30: “Our name is Legion”). On one level, then, the swine and their swineherds in this morning’s Gospel symbolize the armies of idolatrous Rome. As mirrors, they reflect the idolatry of our own idolatrous culture. On a deeper level – as indicated in the exorcism prayers of the baptismal service – they are the demonic armies of the prince of the power of the air working even now in the children of disobedience. (Eph 2:2)
Note well, therefore, the tombs looming prominently in the background. This is what’s in the heart of our culture’s idolatry. For, what does our popular culture worship? Is it not sex and all that goes with it: bodily pleasures, youthful and good looking virility, power, money? Look to yourself: can you not see how you have been made to believe that your personal worth is directly proportional to the attractiveness (and sexuality) of your body? But, what looms in the background? Where does our body, however attractive or virile, end up? Is it not in the tombs?
We hear in the Canon of Repentance: “Like a swine lying in the mud so do I serve sin.” This takes us into this morning’s Gospel's deepest level where it now reflects the idolatry that is in me, making me a child of disobedience. In the revelation of this prayer of the Church, I now can see that I am the “certain” man who lives “in the tombs”.
This is why we need to study this “certain” man’s behavior if we would learn how to root out the idolatry of our soul so that our heart would be made into a bridal chamber and we would become through the obedience of faith children of God.
We can see that this man was restless. He would not stay put in his house, but he lived in the tombs. It says that many times the demons would seize him and he would break all restraints and be driven out into the desert – also a lifeless place. The house is our spirit or our heart, the deepest or highest part of our soul, our true self.
Beloved faithful, how is it that I can easily stay put for hours watching TV, playing video games, surfing the internet, texting, chatting, twittering, peering into my smart-phone, frequenting bars, taverns and clubs, but cannot stay put before the icon in prayer for even one minute without feeling an inner force pulling at me to leave my house and go back to my worldly distractions? And, is it not many times that I am seized by lust or anger and driven into the desert, breaking all inner restraints?
Why are we so restless? Why are we so easily overcome by these dark spirits that we break all restraints and are driven into the desert, i.e., driven to give in to them and act them out? Most likely it’s not because we’re possessed by a demon. The demons were driven out of our souls at our baptism, which isn’t at all to say that they can’t or won’t come back if we open ourselves to them by our words and actions. No, most likely it’s because we have dropped the cross of inner vigilance – if we ever picked it up – and so we have allowed the law of sin that is active in our fleshly members to gain the upper hand. (Rm 7:23)
If we are tired of living in this dark inner restlessness and powerlessness of soul, let’s turn our attention now to the words and actions of this morning’s “certain” man.
It says that he came from out of the city and met Jesus as soon as the LORD stepped onto the earth. You can be sure it wasn’t the “legions” compelling him to go meet Jesus. If they’d had their way, they would have driven him out into the desert away from the LORD. But, in this, I believe they suddenly saw the pinch they were in. The LORD was already in the desert, driven there not by demons but by the Holy Spirit; and, in the desert, He had already triumphed over their prince, the devil. (Mk 1:12ff.) I can imagine the “legions” were in a desperate frenzy looking around wildly to see where they could go to get away from the Son of God who has stepped into their realm filled with their swine and swineherds, their idols.
At any rate, I believe this “certain” man ran to meet the Savior of his own will. For the first time, perhaps, he mastered himself and acted in obedience to God; for the Psalmist says: “Thou hast said, ‘Seek ye my Face.’ My heart says to Thee, ‘Thy Face, LORD, do I seek!” (Ps 27:8) How could this man run to meet the Savior if he had not turned his face to seek the Face of the LORD? And, in coming out to meet the LORD, was he not receiving Him?
For, St Luke gives us to understand that as soon as this man turned to go meet the Savior – to seek His Face – the Savior was commanding the unclean spirit to come out of him. Behold the fruits of obedience to the LORD! Behold the goodness and mercy of the Savior! He spoke and the world came to be. He commanded, and the tomb becomes a bridal chamber! Remember the Prodigal? He, too, was living with the swine. But, as soon as He turned to seek the Face of the heavenly Father, the Father already was running out to meet him, to embrace him, to clothe him, to feed him and to receive him into His House!
It says that the man cried out with a great voice – note it is the man, not the unclean spirits who are crying out! – “What can you do for me, O Jesus, Son of the Most High God! I pray Thee, do not torment me!” Can you hear the cry of the Psalmist? “Out of the depths I cry to Thee, O LORD!” (Ps 130:1) “My heart says to Thee, O LORD, Thy Face do I seek!” Can you hear this man crying the powerful prayer of the Name or the prayer of the heart? “O Jesus, Son of the Most High God! Do not torment me!” he says. “LORD, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner!”
Beloved faithful, we cannot master the demons or the law of sin that is in our members. But, we can master ourselves, as did this “certain” man. We can turn in our heart to seek the Face of the Savior, and the Savior delivers us from the power of the demons and masters the law of sin active in us. Note how this man, as soon as he turns to meet, to receive, the LORD, stays put. He stays put as he prostrates himself before Jesus and cries out. He is staying put in unceasing prayer from the depths of an utterly broken and contrite heart in the bodily attitude of worship. Then, he stays put when he is found sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. He has found inner peace and joy. Finally, he stays put when the LORD directs him into his house – obviously not his town house, for he goes throughout the countryside preaching the “Word of the Cross” (I Cor 1:18) – but the house of his heart where he is now turned toward the LORD. This is the ascetic discipline of inner vigilance and unceasing prayer.
Beloved faithful, the LORD on Christmas steps out of the boat. He comes forth from the Virgin as the Mighty River pouring out of the Temple in the vision of Ezekiel that heals and makes alive everything it touches. He steps onto the earth. He becomes flesh and dwells among us. If we want to, we can join this “certain” man if we turn our hearts to seek the Face of the LORD. In the fear of God, with faith and love, we take up the Fast as our cross to go in spirit to the Cave of Bethlehem (Festal Menaion 201) – the Cave of our deep heart – to meet Him who is born of the Blessed Virgin. Amen!