The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke 8:26-39
When a man or woman or child falls into the life of sin they find themselves inching closer to the demons and further from the Master of Creation. This is the case no matter how small or insignificant the sins may seem to us at the time because sin is a rebellion against God our creator. Sin is a delusion and also a form of permission. We are permitting the unholy and rejecting the holy in our lives.
In some relatively rare cases, this life of sin becomes so much a part of the individual that they find themselves completely enslaved by a new master. This master is harsh and cruel to his subjects. He trades their homes and offers them tombs. He takes their right mind and their will and he manipulates them until they are left with nothing as their own…not even the very clothes on their back! He gives them slavery instead of freedom. He even trades them life for death!
We see this in today’s gospel reading as the man who was possessed by demons is actually naked and lives not in a normal house but among the dead in the tombs. It is in fact a fitting place for him because his relationship with sin has made him friends with the demons and estranged him from God who is the life-giver. When God is pushed out of our lives, we begin to take on the characteristics of death. We have seen this happening in our own society. While the cases of true demon possession are fairly rare, it should be noted that by many accounts, these cases are rising at a staggering rate. It makes sense. As we become a less godly nation, as people become less Christian, we find ourselves more at risk.
We see something interesting happen as the demoniac encounters Our Lord Jesus Christ. He cries out and falls to the ground. The man who was strong enough to break free of chains and to escape from his guards became like a little screaming toddler before the Lord of glory. He cried out “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” Amazing! What had the Lord done to cause the demon possessed man to react in such a way, to fall to the ground and cry out and beg? Nothing. It was simply the presence of Jesus that caused horror and torment to the man. This falls very much in line with our understanding of the afterlife and the presence of God. His presence is experienced as warmth, light and joy to those who struggle during their lives for holiness and the love of God and neighbor. But for those who reject the principles of the gospel, who love sin and the pleasures of the flesh, who know nothing of love for God or their neighbor, and who do not repent and turn away from their rebellion, the presence of God Himself becomes torment and burning and fire and this is an everlasting fire.
We see here the power of the presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ when He draws near to the demoniac. It is the teaching of the Orthodox Church that even the name of the Lord Jesus Christ has a similar power in the lives of the faithful. Many of the saints, fathers and mothers of the Church teach us to say the Jesus prayer (sometimes simply known as “the prayer”). When we are disturbed or lack peace, when we are angry or feeling impatient, when we have lustful thoughts….we can turn to the prayer. The short prayer “Lord Jesus, haver mercy on me” is powerful in it’s ability to return us to our proper state. According to one of the saints, the mere mention of the name of Jesus is like a whip on the backs of the demons who try to whisper and tempt us. The name of Our Lord, coupled with the sign of the cross, is like a forceful repellent against our enemies. The demons are terrified by His name.
The practice of this prayer allows each of us to be in our right mind. Over the course of time, the fire of the name of Christ burns away the thorns of desires and leaves only what is good. It is not insignificant that when the Lord Jesus heals the man, we then find this man sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. He had been naked, homeless and crazy. He lived among the tombs like one who was already a dead man. Now we see the opposite. It is a not so subtle way of telling us that when one is sitting at the feet of Jesus, in His presence, listening to His words, he is like a new man. We have perfect sanity when we are sitting at the feet of Jesus. Whether we are on our knees praying before the icons or worshiping liturgically or sitting and reading the gospels or even listening to sermons and homilies. In each of these cases we are offered restoration and healing which lead to sanity and a renewed life. It is not possible for the Giver of life to give less than that.
This man had formerly been comfortable with the sin in his life. He married himself to sin. So later he was uncomfortable with the presence of Christ. As Christians we learn to be at peace with the presence of Christ in our lives as we grow in our relationship with Christ and then we do not have to be tortured and tormented and caught off guard like the demon possessed man. We should deal with what is evil, fleshly and demonic in our lives as if it is a terrible torment and burden and we should cast it off through repentance and the saying of the Jesus prayer. When we do this God will show mercy to us and relieve us of these burdens and afflictions and we will be found seated in the presence of the Lord, clothed with the garment of righteousness and salvation and with our hearts and minds enlightened. All of this He will do in us, because He is the only lover of mankind.
Glory be to God forever, AMEN.