|45 - Two Demoniacs and the Power of Faith, July 12, 2020|
Here’s something of an evangelical ‘koan’, a biblical riddle set to the sacred music of the Church’s worship: we live in an inner world that is beneath us and beyond us. It’s our true home, but we’re never ‘at home’. We came to be, we sprang forth from that inner world like grass springs forth from the field. Our roots go down into that inner world like the roots of the water lily go down into the lakebed beneath the surface of the water. Like the water lily separated from its roots by the lake’s surface, so we are separated from our roots in the inner world by the surface of this life. Between us ‘up here’ on this side and our roots in the inner world ‘down there’ on the other side of the surface of this life is the tomb, separating us from our roots like a dark door. And, that door is absolutely closed to us, locked, until the day of our death.
Or is it? Listen to St Macarius again: ‘When you hear of tombs, don’t think just of physical ones. Your own heart is a tomb.’ (Hom 11.11) Where, in these terms, does the Church and her ‘WORD of faith’ come from? That is, where does the Body of Christ, in whom the fullness of divinity dwells, come from? What, then, is the ground of the Church’s Faith? That is, where do the roots of the Church’s Faith spring from?
St Paul indicates it to us in his epistle this morning: ‘The righteousness of faith speaks thus: ‘Do not say in your heart, who will go up into heaven [that is, Christ who came down], or, who will go down into the abyss [(or, beyond the sea, as it says in Dt, giving us to believe that this morning’s Gospel is showing the hidden substance of Joshua/Jesus leading Israel at the end of her Exodus into the Promised Land of her Inheritance), that is, Christ who led the dead up (I think St Paul may have Ezekiel 37.1-12 in mind)],’ but what does it say? ‘The WORD is near you, in your mouth and in your heart,’ that is the WORD of Faith that we preach.’
Listen to St Paul closely. Can you hear in his words that the WORD of the Church’s preaching is not a distinctive religious idea? It is part of the incarnation of Christ Himself?
If one hears the WORD of faith that the Church preaches, and ‘believes’ in it, one is not led into some cerebral chamber of religious ideas. One is led into the mystery of Christ Himself crucified and risen from the dead. One is led into the mystery of His empty Tomb. He is Himself the WORD of faith that the Church preaches. If you hear the WORD of the Church’s preaching and have only a religious idea circling around in your head—subject to analysis and debate—you have not received the WORD of faith that the Church preaches. You are still wandering around, like Israel in the wilderness for 40 years, on this side of the LORD’s Tomb, on this side of the ‘Promised Land’ of Israel’s ‘Inheritance’. You are still up here on the surface, in the air, in the provenance of the ruler of the air, the spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience, the children of wrath, in the lusts and desires of the flesh (Eph 2.2-3). You are still up here, on this side of the door, in the empty realm of words and ideas, empty of any real substance. You are still separated from the roots of your being beneath you and beyond you where you are beneath and beyond all words and ideas.
Can you ‘see’ how this WORD of the Church’s faith is rooted in Christ. This means that the WORD of faith the Church preaches is rooted not in a religious assertion, not in a word or bunch of words, but in the incarnate Body of Christ the WORD of God, in which He was raised as man from the dead. Rooted in the Body of Christ Himself, the Church’s WORD of faith comes from that inner world that is beneath us and beyond us. It comes from the mystery of Christ’s empty Tomb. But, Holy Scripture takes us even deeper than that. The Church’s WORD of faith comes from the Garden of the Resurrection, the Garden of Eden, that is beyond even the inner world of the Tomb.
Ponder this image. Can you see that the Church, the fullness of God dwelling in the Body of Christ, is the inner world here in the outer world? The doors of the Church open onto the empty Tomb of Christ, and into the Garden of His Resurrection. Here and now, in the sacramental and liturgical worship of the Church, Christ, the Resurrection and the Life, Himself comes to us. Here on the corner of 38th and 54th., we are standing in the Resurrection in the inner world that is beneath and beyond us. We are standing in the mystery of our own heart where we are truly known by the LORD Himself. (Jer 17.9-10)
Surely, we can see from this that what the worldly mind calls faith is not biblical faith. The Church’s WORD of faith is true knowledge, for it is an incarnation of Christ, the Wisdom and Knowledge of God, the WORD of God who is beyond all words. This knowledge is the very life of the heart, for it is the mystery of Christ in the heart, in the deep beyond all things.
Our scripture lessons this morning are a boat taking us out onto an unfathomable sea of theology. How I would love to sit in the boat with you and set before you a panorama of these depths so that you, too, could be struck by awe and wonder by the beauty you would see. But, time allows us to draw up only one or two of the colors we see.
The WORD of Faith that ‘we preach’ in Christ’s Holy Church is the LORD Himself, ‘the Beauty and the Good for whom the human heart intensely longs, the originator and begetter of love and the erotic force’ within us. (St Maximus, 5th Cent of Various Texts, §§82-91, Philokalia II, 280-282) The Church’s preaching proclaims how He came out of Himself to give Himself to the human soul as the Bridegroom gives Himself to His Bride, that He might become one with her. When in her own erotic love, in the divine force sown in her by the LORD, the WORD of God, the heart comes to her senses and sees that the LORD is the Sweetness and Desire she longs for and longs to cleave to (Sg 5.16 LXX), then can it be said that the soul has received the LORD in the WORD of faith, in the love of her heart, the very substance of faith, that ‘we preach.’
The boat in our Gospel this morning is the ‘preaching’ of the Church (we see the boat also as an image of the Virgin Theotokos) that brings us with the LORD and His disciples into the ‘beyond’ of the Gadarenes, the inner world of our soul. Here in the beyond of the Gadarenes, we see an image of our inner man. Are we not the townspeople; for do we not, like they, live in the thoughts, the dreams, the hopes of the ‘city’? Sure, they come out to meet the LORD as did the demoniacs, but in order to chase Him away, presumably so they can go back to their life in the ‘city’ undisturbed.
I see the townspeople as an image of the law of sin, the body of death, that has become incarnate in us, as St Paul says (Rm 7). This is the law of greed, which is idolatry (Col 3.5). When we live in the ‘city’, we become just like our idols: we have eyes and ears that can neither see nor hear, and we remain in the city of our idolatry far away from the ‘inner world’ of our soul in the tomb of our heart.
For, to receive the LORD requires repentance, turning our heart away from our idolatry and coming out like the demoniacs this morning to meet the LORD Jesus in the tomb of our heart. Mark tells us the ‘demoniac’ fell down and worshipped Him.
And, here we are this morning, in the worship of the Church, in the mystery of the LORD’s empty Tomb! Here, in the presence of the LORD, if we would but come down from the high horse of our self-righteousness (take off our masks!), we can encounter our true selves enslaved to the ruler of the prince of the air by the fear of death in the tomb of our heart.
How are we bound to death? By the greed and self-will of our idolatry. These are the fetid fumes that rise from the spiritual corpse of our soul in the tomb of our heart. How can a corpse raise itself to life? Obviously, it cannot! Only the LORD can deliver us and save us.
How do the demoniacs have the power to overcome the demons so that they can come out to meet Jesus and bow down before Him in worship? Dear faithful: here in the sacred worship of the Church, standing, like the demoniacs, in the presence of the LORD, do you not feel a certain longing for beauty and goodness stirring from somewhere deep in your soul that is deeper and stronger than the grip of any passion on you? In our heart, we are deeper than the dark spirits and the passions by which they enslave us; for they are empty. But, in the deep of our heart, we are in the empty Tomb of the LORD that is empty of emptiness and filled with the Resurrection and the Life, filled with Christ Himself, who is in you! In our heart, we have the innate power to choose whose slave we will be; it is the primordial power of our heart’s deepest longing and desire. For the deepest movement of the heart, created in the image and likeness of the LORD God, is the erotic love that was sown in her at her creation by the LORD in His erotic love for her. What is natural to the heart is love for God, not love for the passions of idolatry. We, then, exercise the faith, the love of our heart, when we choose, in the freedom that is innate in the power of love, to come out to meet the LORD in order to present ourselves to Him in worship and in love.
And, we see what happens in the ‘inner world’ of the soul when we present ourselves to the LORD in the faith, the love of our heart. Pascha happens in us! The winds and the waves of the passions stirred up in us by the spirits of the air subside and a ‘great calm’ settles over us. It is the peace and the joy that comes to us from the LORD in the inner world beneath and beyond us. Amen!