|06 - RIDDLE OF THE CERTAIN MAN OF THE GERASENESE, Oct 31, 2021|
2 Corinthians 11.31 – 12.9
We are not given a parable to contemplate this morning. We are given a ‘historical’ event in the earthly sojourn of the incarnate God. But, the historical event is every bit the riddle a parable is, except that it is not a dark and obscure saying but a dark and obscure event that gives historical form, as the parable gives literary form, to the mystery of God hidden from the ages, the mystery of Christ in you.
For in the Incarnation of the WORD of God, creation receives and becomes the garment of the Icon of the invisible God (Col 1.15), Jesus Christ. The events of the incarnate God recorded in the bible are deified historical moments because they are filled with the Icon of God, Jesus Christ incarnate. And so, they come into existence as historical icons of the Mystery of God hidden from the ages, the mystery of Christ in you, the hope of Glory. (Col 1.26-27)
‘As He stepped out [of the boat] onto land,’ it says. The eye of faith easily sees in this a historical icon of the only-begotten God, He Who Is in the bosom of the Father (Jn 1.18; cf. Ex 3.14), becoming flesh in the womb of the Holy Virgin and knitting Her pure blood with Himself to fashion our human flesh, body, mind and soul, into His own Living Temple (Jn 2.19&21) in which He now dwells among us as the LORD God and the Prince of Israel (Eze 44.2-4). ‘He stepped out of the boat onto land’ is a historical icon of Christmas when Christ is born of the Holy Virgin and coming into the world.
‘A certain man,’ it says. Generally, this means ‘everyman.’ And so, this man would be a historical icon—as, in fact, all of us are—of Adam. He was from the city, it says. The city he was from, as we see at the end of this story, was not governed by the LORD God but by princes and rulers of men. The city he comes from then is a historical icon of the city of the world, the city built by Cain and his ancestors, whose citizens crucified the righteous Abel, then the prophets, and finally the incarnate God in the hope that they could continue to live on earth ‘as though’ they were gods. (Gn 3.23)
‘And he had had demons for a long time,’ St Luke tells us. How long? Ever since ‘woman’ became the bride not of the LORD God but of the serpent, when man chose to partake not of the divine nature from the Fruit of the Tree of Life, but of the worldly pleasures of idolatry from the fruit of the tree of learning good and evil.
Now we come into the darkness of this morning’s historical icon. For we come into the darkness of our own soul where the mystery of God is hidden in us!
Let’s turn to the passage I have often quoted from St Macarius of Egypt, but let’s look at the passage more fully: ‘When you hear that at that time [the LORD’s death on the Cross], the LORD delivered the souls from hell and darkness, and went down to hell, and did a glorious work, do not imagine that these things are so very far from your own soul. Man is capable of admitting and receiving the evil one. Death keeps fast hold of the souls of Adam, and the thoughts of the soul lie imprisoned in the darkness. When you hear of sepulchers, do not think only of visible ones; your own heart is a sepulcher, a tomb. When the prince of wickedness and his angels burrow there, and make paths and thoroughfares there, on which the powers of Satan walk into your mind and thoughts, are you not a hell, a tomb, a sepulcher, a dead man towards God? There it was, in the tomb of your heart, that Satan sowed the seeds of bitterness. A fountain of mire springs there. Well, then, the LORD comes into the souls that seek after Him, into the deep of the heart-hell, and there lays His command upon death, saying; ‘Bring out the imprisoned souls that are seeking after Me, which thou detainest by force.’ So He breaks through the heavy stones that lie on the soul, He opens the sepulchers, raises up the man that is dead indeed, and brings out of the dark jail the imprisoned soul.’ (Hom 11.11)
From St Macarius, can you see that this ‘certain man’ in our Gospel this morning, in whom the demons live and who make him to live in the tombs, is a historical icon of all of us? Precisely this is what the knowledge of faith reveals to the eye of the soul when the soul awakens from her stupor and sees her pitiful, darkened state, so that she cries out in faith to the Most Beloved Theotokos: ‘O Mary, dwelling-place of God! I have become a haunt of wicked demons through my vile deeds, and I have mindlessly carried out their will. Show me forth through repentance to be a habitation for God!’ ‘O Holy Theotokos! I cannot bear the assaults and tumult of the demons, for the flame of carnal passions darkens my mind. O disdain me not! For I set all my hope on thee!’
Why does the soul call out to the Theotokos? Because She is the Burning Bush in whom the purifying Fire of God burns. You cannot touch the divine Fire of the incarnate God, Jesus Christ, without touching His Mother; you cannot touch the Virgin Mary without touching the Fire of the incarnate God, Jesus Christ, that burns in Her. She is the Foundation of the Incarnation of the Son of God. The Incarnation did not happen apart from Her. She alone is the Living Temple of the incarnate God. In Her alone do we find the crucified and risen God incarnate Who is our salvation and deliverance from the passions and their demons who torment us! And so, in crying out to His Holy Temple, the Virgin Theotokos, we are crying out to the LORD Who dwells among us in Her: ‘Lead me up, O Theotokos, Mistress of the world! I am wholly despondent, O pure one, because by my wicked mind, I have been plunged into the abyss of perdition and evils by carnal pleasures and my passionate attachment to the things of this life! [Thurs Compline, Tone I, Ode V & VII, p. 60]
I have come to believe that this man in our Gospel this morning, possessed by demons and living in the tombs, is, in fact, the image of the true Christian. If it is in the Font of Holy Baptism that we unite ourselves to Christ not in theory but in ‘historical’ reality, are we not uniting ourselves to Him in the likeness of His death?
To be united to Christ in the likeness of His death is to be united to Him by sharing with Him in His suffering and death. And we share with Him in His suffering and death in our struggle to crucify our earthly members. These are all the carnal passions: gluttony, lust, greed, anger, envy, vanity, sloth. They are the tumultuous movements of the demons that rage in our soul, darkening us, making us blind, deaf and dumb, because we have given our love to the world. This struggle to crucify our earthly members is the spiritual reality of which the ‘certain man’ running to meet the LORD is a historical icon. But what is it to run to the LORD if it is not to turn away from the city of the world? And what is that if it isn’t to lose our life for the sake of Christ, that is, out of love for Christ in order to be buried not with dark spirits but with Him in the tomb of our heart?
In the Tomb of Christ, the tomb of our heart is emptied. The LORD’s empty Tomb is a historical icon of our hearts being cleansed and transfigured into a bridal chamber, so that we live in our heart no more as in a tomb but as in a bridal chamber wherein we are becoming one with God. For, united to Christ, our heart becomes no longer the place of the dead but of the living. It is raised to life in a new and right Spirit, the Holy Spirit of Christ’s Resurrection. We are no more like the dark spirits, cavorting through this life as though we were gods, for we have died in the death of the God-Man, and we have been born again in His Resurrection as children of God. We have become a new creation in newness of eternal life. Our body, then, is no more a pagan temple among the tombs, reeking with the stench of the passions, the invisible idols that embody the dark and evil spirits dwelling in us. If we have died with Christ, then our body has been returned to the dust and we are refashioned by the Hand of God into a living temple of God rising from the Garden of the LORD’s Resurrection. This is the unveiling in our hearts of the mystery of God hidden from the ages, the mystery of Christ in you!
I already indicated how our Gospel this morning is a historical icon of Christmas. But, precisely in this, we see in it a historical icon of Great Lent as well. That is the forty day period (40 is the number of weeks of gestation in the mother’s womb; so 40 is an icon of our regeneration in Christ) when we go downward, into our soul, with the Myrrhbearers, having seen how the LORD was placed in His Tomb, to make our way into the tomb of our own heart through the stillness of prayer, in order to draw near the Savior as did the ‘certain man’ in this morning’s Gospel, in order to enter with Peter and John into the terrible mystery of the LORD’s Sabbath Rest in the Tomb.
How do we draw near the Savior with the certain man in this morning’s Gospel? How do we enter the LORD’s Tomb with Peter and John? By taking up our cross and setting out to crucify, to put to death, in the power of the Savior’s Cross, all that is earthly in us, all the passions by which the demons have taken possession of us.
And so we can see in the ‘certain man’ sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, a historical icon of the ‘joy that is found in secret in the Cave’ of Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, and also of the sacred joy of Pascha Night, when we come to the Church at 1130 pm, having partaken of the LORD’s harrowing of hell the evening before, and having witnessed in the sacred rites of Great and Holy Saturday the descent of the Angel to scatter the guards as a ‘Legion’ of evil spirits, and to roll away the stone of the LORD’s Tomb, removing the flaming sword that blocked our entrance to the Tree of Life, and opening the gates of our own heart onto the Garden of the LORD’s Resurrection from the dead!
We, then, are the ‘certain man’ in this morning’s Gospel running to meet the LORD stepping out of the boat onto the earth, to meet the LORD who has been born in the earth of His flesh from His Mother, the Virgin Mary, the boat; to fall at the feet of Jesus who has risen from the earth of the Tomb into the flesh of His risen Body in the Garden of His Resurrection.
In the Church, we are making the same movement of this ‘certain man’ running to meet the same LORD. On the inner Exodus of the Church’s liturgical journey, we are running to meet the LORD Jesus stepping out of the boat onto the earth, the LORD Jesus born of the Virgin Mary in the Cave of Bethlehem. We are running to the LORD’s Tomb with Peter and John (Jn 20.1-10) to meet the LORD Jesus, stepping out of the Tomb and into the world as the First-Born of the dead.
The Church is leading us on this inner Exodus by taking us into the mystery of the LORD’s Living Temple, His Mother, the Holy Virgin, in the Feast of Her Entrance into the Temple on November 21. For She, the Living Temple of God, the Temple of the Last Day, is the ‘foundation’ of God becoming flesh in the Temple of His Body He built from Her pure blood, and dwelling among us. Entering the Living Temple of the mystery of the Holy Theotokos, taking refuge in Her as our Mother, the Church, She, like Simeon giving the Child to Her, gives the LORD Jesus to us to hold in our bosom. Taking up the prayers and ascetical life of the Church, we walk in the Light of Christ, in the power of His Holy Spirit and in the victory of His cross. We walk the Path that will lead us to the Cave of Bethlehem as into the tomb of our heart on Lazarus Saturday, that Christ may be born in us, that we may become ourselves, mothers of God; and that we may be born of God, that we may become ourselves children of God, coming forth from the tomb of our heart into the Garden of His Resurrection, worshipping at the feet of the risen LORD, clothed in the uncreated Glory of God, and in our right mind, in the Wisdom of God. Amen!