47 - CASTING OUT DEMONS, Aug 21, 2022

1 Corinthians 4.19-26

Matthew 17.14-23

If the Son of God became flesh, then, of course, He had a history and all that He did in the flesh was historical. Among the many lessons we can draw from the historicity of the Gospels is that our salvation, our deliverance from the devil and the destruction of death by God’s death on the Cross, is real; it is not a myth that needs to be demythologized. Our salvation has physical as well as psychological and mental consequences that are played out in our bodies and in our souls, in our own personal histories.

This demon is throwing the boy into the fire and into the water. The disciples, to their surprise, it seems, are unable to cast it out. They ask the Savior, why? He answers: ‘Because of your unbelief. For if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, be moved and it will be moved, and nothing will be impossible to you. This kind, however, can be cast out only by prayer and fasting.’

On the plane of history, this demon was throwing the boy into fire and water. But what is the invisible spiritual dynamic that this historical episode is the visible, outer face of, and that is played out visibly in our own personal histories? We turn to the Church, the Body of Christ, for an answer, and not to the ignorance of the wisdom of our own religious opinions. The Church, that is, Our LORD Jesus Christ, gives us the answer in the prayers of Thursday Matins for this last week in which the Church, that is Christ, has us calling on His Holy Mother, the Theotokos, as though in anticipation of this morning’s Gospel:

‘Having been made to fall into subtle temptations by enemies, both visible and invisible, I am beset by the tempest of countless sins, O All-Holy Theotokos, and I flee to the haven of Thy goodness as to a fervent help and protection. Wherefore, entreat Him who became incarnate of Thee without seed, O all-pure One, in behalf of all Thy servants who unceasingly hymn Thee, O all-pure Theotokos, and earnestly beseech Him that He grant remission of sins unto those who with faith bow down before Thy birthgiving!’

The Church—i.e., Christ Himself, if the Church is, in fact, His Body, as St Paul says—tells us that Our Most Beloved Lady Theotokos honors those who honor Her, She loves those who love Her. You see from this prayer what that means! The disciples could not cast out the demon because of their unbelief. But the Theotokos can. She is the Bush that burns with the Fire of God, and She is not consumed; instead, She burns everything She touches with the divine Fire that burns in Her! And She is the Mother of the children of God who, through faith, receive Her Son, Jesus Christ, and become themselves bushes burning with the divine fire, who can say to a mountain, move over there, and it moves, and who can say to the demons, ‘Depart!’ and they flee!

See how Christ is teaching us in all the prayers of His Holy Church to cry out to His Holy Virgin Mother as to our Mother. When we honor and love the Theotokos, we begin to feel the tenderness of Our LORD Jesus Christ—for we enter the embrace of His love for His Mother and Her love for Him. We begin to experience the warm, human and maternal character of the Church’s salvation that those who do not honor His Mother simply cannot experience.

The prayer goes: ‘Having been made to fall into subtle temptations by enemies, both visible and invisible, O All-Holy Theotokos!’ So, the fire and the water that this boy falls into are all the visible and invisible temptations and sins that would destroy us. That is, they are the bodily and spiritual temptations, the restless thoughts, worries and carnal desires of this worldly life that we are thrown into every day by which Satan keeps us constantly agitated and unsettled. They are the mountains, the passions, that we cannot move because they move us; they throw us into the fire and into the water!

Watch yourself and see how often, as you go through your day, you fall first into one fantasy and then into another, or into anger and then into carnal desire, or into one worry and then into another. You’re being thrown into fire and water.

The force of the LORD’s answer to the disciples is that you cannot cast demons out from others until you have cast them out of yourself! So, how do you cast out these demons? Through faith, and through prayer and fasting, the LORD answers.

But, what is faith? St Maximos says: ‘Faith is a supranatural relationship through which, in an unknowable and so undemonstrable manner, we are united with God in a union which is beyond intellection.’ (Philo II 190) Can you see how St Maximos understands faith as the movement of our soul’s erotic love for the Heavenly Bridegroom, the LORD Jesus Christ?

Therefore, ‘because of your unbelief’ means, ‘because you do not love Me with all your heart, soul, strength and mind!’ For if we love the LORD with all our heart, soul, strength and mind, it will no longer be we who live but Christ who lives in us (Gal 2.20). And it will be in our faith that we will cast out demons, in our love for Christ and His Holy Mother, because Christ will be dwelling in us as He dwelt in His Holy Mother. The divine fire of His love and goodness will be burning in us as it burns in Her; and it will consume every idolatry, every impurity that dwells in us, but our hearts it will not consume. Our hearts it will purify and make new, and we will become ourselves all fire, burning with the fire of God, and the demons will flee from us because Christ God is burning in us!

How do we come to burn with this divine fire of God? Through prayer and fasting, the LORD says. The holy fathers define prayer as descending with the mind into the heart to stand in the presence of God. Such a work cannot be done, obviously, apart from fasting; that is, apart from separating ourselves from every thought, from every sight and sound, from every carnal desire and deed that separates us from the holy fire of God that longs to burn in us if we would but receive Christ that we might become children of God, that we might become flames of the holy fire.

In prayer, we descend into our heart. The heart, as the prophet Jeremiah says (in the LXX), is the man; it is our true self. Prayer, then, is taking away all the masks—fasting—that we hide behind in order to stand naked before God. But how can we stand before the incarnate God if we do not stand before His Holy Mother, since it was from Her and from Her alone, the Church’s hymns remind us, that the WORD of God, our salvation, came into the world in the flesh. And when we present ourselves to the LORD in love for His Holy Mother, the nakedness of the first Eve is done away with in us, and we who hymn Her are clothed in our heart, and even in our bodies as the lives of the saint bear witness, with the beauties of Her virginity and the virtue of Her Son’s incorruption. (Compline Tone 8, p, 122) We begin to burn with fire of the love of God, which is Christ, in the love, in the faith, of His Holy Mother! Now, in this faith and in this love, in Christ who lives in us as He lives in His Holy Mother, we can move mountains. We can cast out demons, we can master the passions. We can destroy death (this is the mountain) by the power of the death of Christ who lives in us!

Those who desire such a destiny, such a salvation, must do as the Theotokos directs. And what does She say? She says: ‘Do whatever My Son tells you to do!’ (Jn 2.5) This was at the wedding of Cana in Galilee, when they ran out of wine. But remember that they approached the LORD’s Mother; and remember that the LORD changed the water into wine because His Mother entreated Him. Otherwise, He was not intending to do so, for His hour had not yet come.

And in the Church that is truly the Body of Christ, the Mother of Christ, the Mother of God, is entreating Her Son for us; and He listens to Her. What might be the jars He commands us to fill with water? Would they not be our mind, our soul, our body that we fill with the Living Water of His Holy Spirit in the partaking of the Church’s sacramental mysteries through prayer and fasting in faith? This is the work of love, of the soul’s longing to deny herself for her heavenly Bridegroom, to separate herself from the world in order to cleave to the loving God who in His love for His Bride, the human soul, became flesh of our flesh and bone of our bones so that we can become flesh of His flesh and bone of His bones. Glory to Jesus Christ! Most Holy Theotokos, save us! Amen!