42 Two Demoniacs - July 1, 2007

Romans 10:1 – 10

Matthew 8:28 – 9:1

This morning, I would like to reflect on a point one of you made to me in a conversation we had this last week, and then apply it to the lesson of this morning’s Gospel. We’ll be making a foray into philosophical thought. But even if you don’t follow it, I think it is still worthwhile because you may at the least catch a glimpse of the grandeur of the Christian Faith into which we have been baptized – that it is much, much more than an ethic or a set of religious ideas. It is a whole new way of living and thinking and doing that proceeds from the living experience of a supra-transcendent reality that eye hath not seen and ear has not heard and tongue has not found words to describe, that infinitely transcends the highest and most sublime vision of philosophy, that is not of this world, and that finally cannot be spoken. It can only be known by becoming one with it in the depths of one’s heart.

We were talking about time. You made the observation that time doesn’t really exist: it’s really just the measurement of decay.

This is actually a profound observation. One of the most brilliant and influential of the ancient pre-Socratic philosophers, Heraclitus, taught that the principle of all things is fire. In other words, just as fire is constantly changing, so the fundamental principle of reality is itself, change. Heraclitus, however, may well have learned this from his contacts with the very ancient religious traditions of the Far East. A sacred text of ancient Chinese religion is called the I Ching, the Book of Changes, and it is based on the fundamental truth that reality is constantly changing. So, to say that time is the measurement of decay – or the measurement of change, of growth and decay, is to see what the wisest of the ancients saw.

That you are seeing into the wisdom of the ancients is verified from the fact that if you look deeper into this observation, you will come to the insight not only of Buddhism, but also of the Holy Scriptures. If the fundamental principle of time is change itself, or of growth and decay, that means that the fundamental reality that underlies all things is nothing. This is one of Buddhism’s fundamental truths; and it is the teaching of Holy Scripture. The world and everything in it comes to be from nothing – from the formless void.

Everything comes to be. That means that everything comes into existence by means of movement; all things move from nothing into existence. Movement or change, then, is the principle of everything that exists.

It comes to be from nothing: that means that everything in the principle of its being is nothing. Nothing in the world, not even world or space-time itself have real substance. At the core, everything is nothing.

However, if we think like this, we’re thinking only as philosophers and according to the wisdom of human opinion; or according to what we are able to see with our own mind. Scripture reveals an even deeper truth about us and about time that we could not otherwise see. The Scriptures tell us that though we came to be from nothing, we were not made by nothing. We were made by That which truly is, God; and we were not made for nothing; we were made for something –specifically, we were made for God, He Who truly is. As the Lord says through his prophet Isaiah, “My word that goes forth from my mouth shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the purpose for which I sent it.”[1] 

Now what is this purpose for which God sends forth his Word – whom Scriptures reveal to be the Person of Jesus Christ.

The writer of Genesis says of Adam and Eve: For this reason the man shall leave his father and mother and shall cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.[2] St Paul and the unknown preacher of 2 Clement[3] bear witness to the early Christian teaching that this was understood to refer to the mystery of the divine Word’s incarnation. Christ, the Second Adam, who thought it not robbery to be equal with God, empties himself and takes the form of a servant.[4] He leaves “Father and Mother” (heaven or the throne of God, let’s say) and he cleaves to his bride, the Church, the Second Eve, the world that he created from nothing, and the two become one flesh. The Something of God is joined to the nothing of the world in the personal mystery of Christ and the Church, his bride, and the nothing becomes Something as it partakes of Him Who Is, Christ God, in the sacred love of what our Holy Tradition calls the Spiritual Marriage of Christ and his Church.

St Peter, whose feast, together with that of St Paul we celebrated on Friday, tells us in effect, that this is what we were made for: to become partakers of the divine nature.[5] It is St Maximus in the 7th century who particularly develops this apostolic doctrine. It is saying that even had there been no sin, no fall in the Garden, God the Word still would have become flesh and dwelt among us – for that was why the world was created in the first place: that God the Word might leave “father and mother” and become one flesh with his bride, the Church, the creation in her primordial goodness.

But we did sin, and we fell into the darkness, the nothingness of death. The incarnation became as well a “rescue” operation, as St Paul writes in Hebrews: “Inasmuch as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared in the same, that through death he might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.”[6] Jesus Christ, He Who Is, who clothes himself with light as with a garment, in these last days, clothes himself with space-time, with that which has no real substance inasmuch as it is the measurement of decay and death, and he unites it to himself. He fixes it to himself by nailing himself to it with the nails on the Cross. For what purpose did he do this? What was the thing he meant to accomplish? St Paul writes: That he might destroy the devil who held the power of death and deliver all who through fear of death had been made slaves to life-long bondage.[7] And these whom he delivered were his own creatures whom he had made from nothing for the purpose of granting them to become partakers of his own eternal and truly substantive life.

Therefore, in the union of this spiritual marriage of Christ and the Church, the movement of time becomes not the measurement of decay, but the movement – the call – from nothing into being, from death to life, and from merely existing to a never-ending ascent from glory to glory; and this ascent from glory to glory is a never-ending deepening of intimacy in love between God the Word and his bride, the Church.

This ascent to God accomplishes God’s purpose in creating the world in the first place; and, it also perfects the essence of the creature. This is what St Maximus the Confessor says: “There are faculties in us that are [unconsciously or instinctively] searching out divine realities. They were implanted by the Creator in the essence of our human nature at its very entrance into being.”[8] In another place, St Maximus speaks of these faculties that search out the divine and that were implanted by God in the essence of human nature as erotic desire. St Maximus writes:

God is said to be the originator and begetter of love and the erotic force. For, he externalized them from within himself; that is, he brought them forth into the world of created things….He himself, as its begetter, is said to be in movement, while because he is what is truly longed for, loved, desired and chosen, he stirs into motion the things that turn towards him. You should understand that God stimulates and allures in order to bring about an erotic union in the Spirit. He impels each being, in accordance with its own principle to return to Him.[9] 

In this light of the Church’s teaching, which is not of the wisdom of human opinion but of the Wisdom of God, our eyes begin to open from their spiritual blindness and we see the movement of time in its essence to be not the measurement of decay, but the movement of God’s love by which he descends into the world in his love for the creature as for his bride, and also the ascent of the creature’s love for God as for her Bridegroom. To say it simply: the teaching of the Church reveals the essence of time to be the movement of erotic love: that love that proceeds from the heart in search of the beloved. We should say, then, that time in its primordial essence as “good”, as created by God, is not the measurement of decay but the movement of desire; and as such it does not desire to descend into decay and death; it desires to ascend to God in the consummation of the spiritual marriage between Christ and his Church. The goal of time, then, the purpose of its movement, is Christ; its fulfillment, its consummation is Christ all in all; for the principle of time is the capacity of the creature to partake of Christ in his Holy Spirit. This is to say that in the spiritual marriage of the Church, to die is to give yourself in love to God, the Beloved – as he gave himself to us in love by dying for us on the Cross; and to live is to receive the Beloved, God the only Lover of mankind, into the bridal chamber of our heart, just as the Theotokos received him into her womb, that we might become one spirit with him who, out of his love for us, became one flesh with us.

Decay, then, is not the essence of time; it is the sign that the world is in bondage to the devil. When Adam and Eve transgressed the commandment of God and were expelled from the Garden, the movement of time was separated from its erotic essence. It became naked - stripped of the Spirit of God in whom it has true existence. Time, too, then, was covered with garments of fig-leaves – fig-leaves of decay and death. Then it fell from being the movement of love and became the measurement of decay and death.

Outside of Christ, the movement of our life through time from birth to death is a descent into an ever-deepening darkness of meaninglessness that ends in the nothingness of the grave. Outside of Christ, all that happens in this journey of our life through time is lost; each moment fades away like the morning mist in the heat of the sun. But united to Christ in holy baptism and holy Eucharist, the movement of our life through time from birth to death becomes an ascent into the eternal life of God who descends to us in the mystery of his Incarnation to deliver us from bondage to darkness and death and to call us into the marvelous light of his Heavenly Kingdom – into his Church, the ekklesia, “She who is called out into the life and love of God”. Descending with Christ into the waters of the Jordan, time becomes that by which God himself strips us in our baptism of the corruptible garments of our decaying flesh that he might raise us up as his children, born of the Spirit from above and clothe us in the incorruptible garments of his immortal, spiritual light. United to Christ, all that happens to us in this journey of our life from birth to death is taken up into God and purified to uncover the principle of our movement through time as an ever-deepening love for God. Anointed with the dew of heaven, the Holy Spirit, our soul, our mind, even our body become, in this love of God, spiritual; this mortal flesh is transfigured, in the love of God, into – or perhaps we should say restored to its original freedom as a seed of the Spirit that in the living, Spiritual Light of God’s Holy Church naturally springs up into eternal life.

Outside of Christ, we read the story of the two demoniacs as a moment in history long ago. United to Christ, we read the story of the two demoniacs as a moment in time that has been taken up into the timeless eternity of Christ – and therefore, as a moment in time that is joined to the moments of our life in Christ here and now, today. In the Church, therefore, we read the story of the two demoniacs as our story today. Christ came to these two men living in the tombs as he came into the world fallen into the outer darkness to shine the unconquerable light of his Holy Spirit in the darkness of the abyss;[10] as he came to us in our baptism when we were dead in our trespasses; and as he comes to us even now in the sacrament of Holy Eucharist to give us to drink the living waters of his Heavenly Spirit and to anoint us with the oil of gladness, the oil of divine light and spiritual joy. He separates the two men from the demons who tormented them as he separated the waters from the waters, the light from the darkness; and as he separated us in our baptism from the devil, from all his angels and all his host and all his pride, and brought us into the light of the Eighth Day of his Holy Resurrection.

As we grow and mature in the grace of our baptism, there comes a moment when we realize that at every moment of our life we are standing, in terms of this morning’s Gospel, on the one side between a herd of swine, their herders, and the townspeople whose livelihood depended on those swine; and on the other, the company of the saints, led by the holy apostles and all those who are disciples of Christ. I say that we are standing between these two groups in this moment of our life; but in fact, we are not standing because as we have been saying, time doesn’t stand still; it is constantly moving. The Church, as I have briefly described her teaching this morning, reveals to us that we are moving in each moment of time; and, what is moving in us is the impulsion of erotic desire; and our erotic desire is demanding to serve something, and it desires to become one with whatever it serves. As St Paul has been teaching us these last two weeks now, we can present the members of our body as instruments of unrighteousness to obey its carnal lusts, but then we become slaves of its carnal desires, and we are compelled to obey its lusts.[11] This morning’s Gospel shows us as it showed the swineherders and the people of the village what will become of us who give our erotic desire to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. We are driven willy-nilly into the herd of swine – we become unclean, covered with skins of the stench of decay and corruption – and our new masters, the demons, will compel us over the cliff and into the abyss. Then the movement of time in this world becomes the measurement of our progress towards that cliff over the abyss; and in the end, when we die and tumble into the sea, every moment of our life will be swallowed up in the abyss of the outer darkness and lost forever. How tragic that the townspeople were so consumed with their desire for the things of this world that they were angry with the Lord. He had delivered the demoniacs from their bondage to the devil and death. But they demanded he leave their country. He came to his own and his own did not receive him because their deeds were of the darkness, and they loved the darkness more than the light.

But may God help us to take this morning’s lesson to heart. In this morning’s Gospel lesson, I think he and his bride, the Church, are calling out to us: “Come, step in with the saints behind the Savior. Present the members of your body to God and become a slave to his grace and to the freedom from death that he alone has the power to give. Give your desire to the treasure of heaven and become one with God the Word, the Heavenly Bridegroom. In this slavery of love, be delivered from the devil and from the fear of death and be united to the Holy Spirit in God the Word through his Cross.” Fear not the pain of the cross, the difficulty of the Church’s ascetic life. Study the Gospel and see that the ascetic life of Christ’s precious and life-creating Cross does not impel us on a mad rush into the abyss; it is a yoke that is easy, whose burden is light because it brings us in the sweet sorrow of contrition for our transgressions into the tomb of the Savior as into the bridal chamber of our heart. In the tomb of the Savior, the bridal chamber of our heart, death is transfigured at the Midnight hour into the liberation of the heart’s erotic desire from her bondage to decay and the beginning of her life in Christ, He Who with the Father and the Holy Spirit alone truly Is. And our moving in time becomes, according to the witness of the apostles and of all the saints, the experience of the love of God that reveals the movement of time as God’s unspeakable love for mankind, and the creature’s unbounded love for the Heavenly Bridegroom, a movement that becomes, through the descent of Christ in obedience to the Father even to the point of death on the Cross, our ascent in the life of Christ from glory to glory, and an ever deepening intimacy of love in Him who alone is Good and the Lover of mankind. Amen.

[1] Isa 55:11

[2] Gn 2:24

[3] 2 Clement 14.

[4] Phil 2:5-6

[5] 2 Pt 1:4

[6] Heb 2:14

[7] Heb 2:15-16

[8] Fourth Cent. Var. Txts, §18. Philo II, p. 239.

[9] Fifth Cent. Var. Txts, §87-88, Philo II, 281-282

[10] Jn 1:5

[11] Rm 6:12-13.