09 - Gerasene Demoniac, Oct 30, 2016 (with audio)

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II Corinthians 11:31-12:9

Luke 8:26-39

It’s Halloween eve! Gather round and hear a Halloween story told by the Church. Close your eyes and step into the picture our Gospel this morning draws in your mind.

Dark storm clouds scatter overhead. They’re quiet now, non-threatening, and we know why, but even so, they do nothing to ease the dread that hangs heavy in the air as a cold, gloomy pall in this place we find ourselves. We have just sailed over the Sea to get here, to the “other side”. We’ve passed over and come into the “beyond” – who knows why, except that the LORD commanded us to do so for reasons of His own.

And, it was a harrowing passage. Torrential rains and typhoon-like winds and gigantic roiling waves from an earthquake at sea (Mat 8:24), like furious sea monsters, sought to destroy us, and they would have had they not suddenly turned like whipped dogs and grown quiet at the command of this Jesus standing before us.

So, now, here we are, on the “other side,” wet and bedraggled, still shaking from the trauma we just passed through. We have sailed into the “beyond”. An eerie, silvery light – maybe it’s the light of the moon, or a weak sunlight fighting its way through the gloom cast by the dark storm clouds scattered but still sitting overhead, as though they’re finding a place to sit and watch a show about to begin? – settles like a cold hand on the silhouettes of tombstones not far in the distance. We were rescued from shipwreck and certain death only to be led here, the place of the dead in the land of the Gergasenes?

Suddenly, the air is split by inhuman shrieks and howls. We’ve heard them before in the company of the LORD, but never in such a gloomy setting as this. Though the LORD Jesus stands before us, whom we just saw calming the stormy sea, we can’t help it; the hair on the back of our neck stands on end. It’s the uncanny shrieking of demons, lots of ‘em. The shrieks are getting louder, they’re drawing nearer. Suddenly, they burst into view as a human, “buck naked” (and no Duluth Trading Co., yet!), bearing down on us from the tombs like another dark storm cloud pouring out of hell to destroy us. Good LORD! Haven’t we had enough already?

So, is it insulting to depict the land of the Gergasenes as the antechamber of hell on the “other side”? Isn’t it like any other land, filled with ordinary, decent citizens? But, maybe that’s precisely the point. I came upon this from Metropolitan Nicholas Hatzinikoloau of Mesogaias:

“Our age chiefly dreams up and manufactures similitudes…Television and movie studios present us with times, places and environments that don’t exist. Advertisements refer us to worlds that have no connection with reality. Men and women are painted and dyed, copies of which no original has ever existed, not a few of them surgically altered (and tattooed) to show the world faces which aren’t true, ages which deceive, and genders that do not correspond to hormones and anatomy. The hegemony of appearances has destroyed the essence and distinctive presence of that which “is”.” (In Doxa, Newsletter of Archangel Michael Monastery, Fall Issue 2016).

Let me read also from Archimandrite Amelianos, former abbot of Simonas Petras on Mt Athos:

“The most dreadful enemy created by the culture of information technology and the image is cunning distraction. Swamped by millions of images and a host of different situations on television and in the media in general, people lose their peace of mind, their self-control, their powers of contemplation and reflection and turn outwards, becoming strangers to themselves; in a word, mindless. If people, especially children, watch television for 35 hours a week, as statistics tell us, then are not their minds and hearts threatened by Scylla and Charybdis, are they not between the devil and the deep blue sea?  The majority of the faithful of the Church confess that they do not manage to pray, to concentrate and cast off the cares of the world and the storms of spirit and soul which are to the detriment of sobriety, inner balance, enjoyable work, family tranquility and a constructive social life. The world of the industrial image degenerates into real idolatry. In the industrial era, people became consumers and slaves to things produced. In post-industrial society, they are also becoming consumers and slaves to images and information, which fill their lives.” (Ibid)

It says that this man possessed of demons was of the city. Is that like being of the world? And, does it together with the fact that he did not abide in his house but in the tombs? I.e., he lived in the appearances and images (eidola, or idols) of the world whose substance is nothing? St John says that the world and everything in it is passing away. If the substance of the world is what feeds our minds, the stuff of our dreams, how is it that we in our “inner man” are not abiding in the nothingness of the tombs?

This is to say that we don’t have to sail to the land of the Gergasenes to get to the other side in order to reach the antechambers of hell in the “beyond”. We need only pass through the stormy sea of our soul to get to the “tomb of our heart” (St Macarius, Homily 11.11) where we are “beyond all things” (Jer 17:5/9 LXX).

But, are you able on your own to master the storms in the sea of your soul in order to reach the shore of your heart where you open out onto the eternal in the “beyond”? Those who are of the city, how do they not live in the spectral gloom of Halloween every day? Is that why Halloween, with its promise of spooks lurking in the shadows, so fascinating to us? But, they’re not spooks. They’re demons. And, if we are of the city and not of Christ, we abide in their home, the tombs, and they abide in us, having made our heart into a tomb, their home.

Let us therefore attend closely and get into the boat with the LORD and His disciples. The boat is the mystery of Christ’s Holy Church. We get into it by repentance: turning inward to face ourselves, mastering by the power of the Cross our laziness and indifference, our day-dreaming, our mindlessness, our love for nothing in our love for the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life, the scorn of our ease, the contempt of our pride, our blame-shifting, our self-justifications, our rationalizations, our excuses. The ascetic disciplines of the Church are the cross given us by the Church in whose power we master the stormy seas in our soul. Through prayer, fasting, confession, forgiving of others, attending to the beam in our eye, not fretting over the speck in our brother’s eye, we get into the boat of the Church, and make ready to set sail for the “other side”, to come in the mystery of the LORD’s Pascha – imaged in His being asleep in the ship’s hold, and then rising to rebuke the storm – into the “beyond”, the tomb of our heart, to face the demons that dwell there and, in the power of the cross, to chase them out so that we are found in our inner man sitting at the LORD’s feet, clothed in the Robe of Light, in our right mind. This is why we take up the Church’s ascetic disciplines; for, the Cross is the might of the Church. The Church’s ascetic disciplines are the enemy of demons, the haven of our salvation. Through them, corruption is abolished and the power of death is crushed.

It says that the man possessed of demons lived in the tombs, but not in his house. This is the word for temple. Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Our heart is the sanctuary. This is where the LORD was buried when He became a corpse. The tomb, says, Metropolitan Nicholas, is the Church that gives birth to our resurrection. When we unite ourselves to Christ by taking up our cross, Christ is laid in the tomb of our heart and our death is put to death, the demons flee, and our heart becomes a bridal chamber, the font of our resurrection.

As the LORD commanded this man, so He commands us whom He has cleansed  and made alive, and clothed us in His Robe of Light, to go to our house, i.e. to withdraw into the secret chamber of our heart, to dwell there in ceaseless prayer while He in His Holy Spirit cleanses our heart and creates it anew, opening our lips that our mouth may declare His praise and that we may teach transgressors His ways in the wonder and in the joy and power of His Holy Resurrection. Amen!