At that time, when Jesus came to the country of the Gergesenes, two demoniacs met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one would pass that way. And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” Now a herd of many swine was feeding at some distance from them. And the demons begged him, “If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of swine.” And he said to them, “Go.” So they came out and went into the swine; and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and perished in the waters. The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, and what had happened to the demoniacs. And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their neighborhood. And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city.MATTHEW 8:28-34; 9:1
There was a young man who went to join a monastery. As he was praying the demons would come to him and encourage him. They would say, “you are doing such a good job!” “Wow, you are so advanced, even the older monks do not pray like you do with such a fervent heart. You are more spiritual than all the others.”
Sometimes when we want to do something good and we want to do it well our pride and our need for approval poison something that was originally very noble.
Soon the young monk told the Abbot that he would go and live alone in a cave as a hermit.He had only been in the monastery for five years. Usually monks wait much longer and they only ask for a blessing to live alone. They might even wait until the abbot suggests that they become hermits. This young man informed the abbot.
The abbot told him that it was not at all advisable for him to become a hermit. He was only a beginner. But the young monk insisted. There was really nothing the abbot could do. The demons continued to encourage the monk to pray (in the same spirit of pride as before, of course). Soon the monk was levitating off the ground. He felt that he had reached a higher spiritual plane.
I want to tell another story of someone who talked to demons. This one is from today’s gospel reading. We read about two men who are possessed by demons. They live in tombs.
What were they doing there? These men were probably sorcerers who claimed that they could contact the dead. People wished to talk to their dead relatives. The sorcerer encouraged grieving people to believe the lie that says that people can avoid their grief by talking to the dead.
The lie was that they could contact their dead relatives instead of mourning instead of using their sorrow as an opportunity to look at their own mortality; that they could talk to the dead instead of embracing the sobriety of the moment in order to repent of their sins. Instead of using the tragedy of death as a moment when they learned to cherish life and cherish their living family members more, instead of thinking about how they are going to use the time they had left, instead of all that the customers of the sorcerer would try to talk to the dead they were being encouraging in their delusion.
Others would ask the sorcerer to predict the future so that the customer could use this knowledge to get ahead in life. The sorcerer encouraged his customers to believe that happiness is something you take and not something you receive from God, and that what people need in life is to have more money and more fame and more possessions.
Other customers came to the sorcerer and wanted to get revenge on their enemies. They wanted a curse to be put on someone, or they wanted a magic potion to make someone die.
When the sorcerer would contact the dead at first he was just making it up. He was just a fraud. He was encouraging people to live a lie, He was encouraging them not to trust in God.
But after a while he was no longer pretending, He actually heard voices. But he was still not talking to the dead. You cannot have conversations with the dead like that. To be sure, sometimes a saint will appear in a vision from God. That is different. It is God’s initiative, not ours.
The sorcerer began to hear voices instead of simply making things up. Now he was talking to demons. The sorcerer was not hearing true things. The demons cannot predict the future. The demons cannot give you good luck and they cannot give someone bad luck. The demons cannot curse people for you.
What they can do is encourage you in your belief that it works. People want to believe that it works, and they selectively interpret facts to fit their expectations. Demons encourage people in that mindset of dishonesty and pride. More importantly, the demons encourage your mindset of pride, which says that you that you have a right to do these things.
Why do we people do these things? Why are we so easily deceived? Every one of us is like a person who is alone on a huge ship tossed around by the storms and we have no idea how to steer the ship and it will probably sink. We want help. Whatever looks like help is what we accept. We are powerless and that is a problem. We are mortal and that is a problem. With all these problems it is understandable that we do not understand what our biggest problem is.
The biggest problem on the storm-tossed ship of our lives is that we think that we are the captain. Jesus, our saviour, is telling us how to steer the ship, but we tell him that we have the right to determine this on our own.
In that state of hopelessness we turn to a solution that is not a solution and the demons begin to speak to us. They encourage us to become attached to things that promise happiness but in actual fact those things cannot give us happiness. The demons encourage us to become enraged and fixated on current events on conspiracy theories on issues that we cannot control at all. They encourage us to be enraged, suspicious, defiant, opinionated, anxious, distrustful. Rights become everything. “Us against them” replaces Jesus Christ as the one thing we turn to for salvation.
Demons take our sinful pride and magnify it. They make it that much harder for us to stop.
What are the voices in your life that encourage you to sin? Which voices tell you that sin is okay, that sin is normal? Where are you seeing sin depicted῞ Where are you hearing sin described in a way that obscures the filthiness of sin, and that makes it look harmless? What voices tell you that pride and defiance are virtues as long as your pride and defiance are exercised together with others who call themselves Christians? Which voices are telling you all about your rights and nothing about your calling to die to your pride, to leave everything behind and to follow Christ?
Which voices are there in your life that believe that you are only capable of being enraged with the world? Which voices encourage you to be exasperated by the fact that people are different than you? Are there pictures, movies, advertisements, channels, songs on the radio or books that tell you how inviting sin is? Do these things tell you that sin is not sin it’s just life everyone is doing it.
What voices are there in your life that make you enraged when someone tells you that Jesus is calling you you to set your sins aside. There are voices in your life that tell you that setting sin aside would be unfair to you. It is your right, perhaps it is your duty, to continue sinning.
There are so many voices in our world that are begging us to give sin a chance. That is why we get stuck in our sins. We allowed ourselves to get stuck when we listened to the voices that encouraged us, and praised us for our sins. We were willing to listen to it because we did not believe that there was any other hope.
When we fall, we think there is no coming back. Can we ever go home? The demons confirm our doubts. The demons encourage us to be indignant because of our fear of being rejected. Our rights and our individualism and our autonomy are threatened.
You should be indignant, but in a different way. You should be indignant because you have the right to stop sinning. Sin leads to death. Sin is killing the image of God in you. Sin is hurting the people you love. Become indignant at how sin and pride imprison you. You have the right to accept the rebuke of your conscience. You have the right to be corrected by Jesus, who knows how to save your ship from sinking.
Become indignant at how impossible it seems for you to turn off the news. You have the right to walk away without feeling like you are missing out. You have the right to take a break from the rage addiction.
You have the right to be at peace with knowing how powerless you are. Stand up for your right to be heart-broken because of your sins. You have the right to come home!
The only way out of this mess is to look death in the face while holding the hand of him who trampled down death by death; the one who said that love is stronger than death. The way out is to see the truth of our mortality, as it is revealed to us by the immortal one.
Here is the truth: life hurts. Death exists. I am mortal. I will die someday.
We must also look death in the face figuratively. I am powerless I am fairly irrelevant in the world. Almost no one cares what I think. Almost no one would listen to me. That is reality. Reality is that I don’t know very much I am not an expert at most things.
Joy comes to us sinners when we say to Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner. I am a sinner. I am dying. I need you to save me. I will take the medicine that you offer. I am not worthy, but help me anyway.
When we resist the demonic voices, the voices become shouts and screams and shrieks. The demons encouraged us to become enraged at the world. But when we resist suddenly we are the ones that all their rage is directed towards. Demons hate humility. They hate serenity. They hate sincerity. They hate it if we are not easily provoked.
Demons hate the person who knows they need Jesus Christ. Demons hate it when we are willing to pay the cost of discipleship. Demons hate it when we wait patiently; when we love Jesus more and when we love our dearest ones more than we love immediate satisfaction.
Demons hate it when we are more concerned with giving limitless and unselfish love more than we are with getting limitless gratification. Demons hate it when we wait for real love and reject anything that only seems like love and intimacy. When we want to serve others out of love and we are no longer hunting like lions for anything that will give us a feeling of being loved. Demons hate self-control. Demons hate it when we embrace being limited by boundaries. Demons hate fasting. Demons hate confession. Demons hate it when we turn the screen off.
When Jesus comes to the demon-possessed men in today’s gospel, the demons shriek!! “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?”
When they say, “what have you to do with me,” that is a way of saying, “what do you want? Leave me alone!” The demons hate the son of God because the Son of God came to serve and not to be served! The Son of God trusts his father. The Son of God fasts even though he is the sinless one! The Son of God will lay his life down for sinners.
The demons say that they are tormented because now they cannot imprison us in our sins. They are tormented because Jesus has come to teach us to love as he loves, and to run away from anything that makes selfishness and impatience look normal and virtuous. The demons are defeated Death is defeated Hades is embittered.
Let’s go back to the story of the monk who had left his monastery to become a hermit. Remember, he was levitating in his pride because the demons had told him that he was so good at praying. Back in the monastery the abbot felt more and more worried So the abbot decided to go out and visit him. As the abbot got to the cave, the young monk was levitating and had floated out of the cave towards a cliff. The abbot caught hold of the young monk just as the demons were about to throw him down the cliff to his death. The abbot saved him and pulled him up.
From that day the young monk returned to the monastery and his job was to chop wood and carry the wood to the other cells. He washed the dishes. He scrubbed the floors.
This was not a punishment. It was a gift, because it proved to the young monk that it was not too late to come home. He was welcomed back. The young monk had finally reached the pinnacle of monasticism. He had reached true enlightenment. That enlightenment is the knowledge that the greatest joy is found when we are faithful in doing the smallest things. Security in life is when we are on our guard against flattery against delusion. That young monk learned that the highest form of spirituality is humility, silence, hard work that is not looking for praise or trying to outdo anyone.
The most spiritual man washes the feet of others. It is easier to wash the feet of others when you are already kneeling down and scrubbing the floor. And you already have soapy water right there. You can have no greater intimacy, no greater fulfilment in friendship than when your greatest desire is to wash the feet of the other in humility.
This is spirituality. This is doctrine. This is real Orthodoxy. This is the faith of the fathers. This is freedom. This is your right.