22nd Sunday after Pentecost.
Today’s Holy Gospel reveals to us the realities of the spiritual life and the battle that is waged in the life of the human soul.
Our Lord Jesus Christ and his disciples sailed to the country of the Gadarenes on the opposite shore from Galilee. When our Lord entered into this land, He came upon a man who was demon possessed – who went about naked among the tombs. As soon as our Lord came near, the man possessed by the demons cried out, “What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me!”
This legion of demons possessing the man could not bear the authority and light of our Lord and at His command they were forced to flee into a herd of pigs, which then went crashing headlong off the cliffs and into the water.
In addition to the earthly events of the arrival of Christ and His disciples and their encountering the unfortunate man of Gadarene, we get a glimpse into the spiritual events occurring in this scene.
The first lesson we must take from today’s Holy Gospel is the reality of the spiritual world – a world which we, in our fallen human nature and in our spiritual immaturity and blindness, do not see nor comprehend. St Theophan the Recluse, that great father of recent times, stated that "The spiritual life is such a realm into which the wisdom of this world cannot penetrate." Nevertheless, whether we perceive it or not, that spiritual world does indeed exist and you and I will spend the better part of our existence in that world… our earthly life is but a blink of an eye in the context of eternity. And yet we run to and fro, pulling our hair out over the most trifle preoccupations and concerns – as if this world and our earthly existence were all there is. If we believe in the life beyond the grave, wouldn’t it make sense to investigate and prepare ourselves for that reality in which we will spend, by far, the greater part of our existence? Indeed it does make sense and indeed we should occupy ourselves more fully with such spiritual pursuits.
But what else does today’s Gospel reveal to us? It shows us that the spiritual realm is a battleground where there is good and evil, where there is the angelic and the demonic. This is not a popular concept in today’s world, which would either have us scoff at the entire notion of the spiritual world, or would naively have us believe that anything “spiritual” is somehow worthy of our interest and veneration. This is especially evident in the ‘New Age’ mentality that seeks to whitewash religious tradition in favor of any kind of self-satisfying ‘spiritual experience’. The fact of the matter is that the evil one does exist and that our “battle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness on high”. (Eph. 6:12)
We need to know our enemy – it is not our brother or our sister – it is the filthy demon. We must heed the advice of the Holy Apostle Peter, who instructs us to “be sober, be vigilant, because our adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Pet. 5:8)
The spiritual life of a conscious Orthodox Christian must be one of vigilance. The Holy Fathers speak with one voice and with great consistency in this regard. For the demons are always knocking at the door of our heart and mind, seeking entrance to create their disturbances and push us off the path of peace and love.
St Paisius Velichkovsky writes about the demonic warfare that, “The demons introduce a thought, and they notice whether there is a watchman or not, that is, they see if the thought will be received or not. If it will be received, then they begin to cause passion and arouse us to it, and they steal our spiritual treasure. If they find a watchman at the doors of the heart who is accustomed to belittle and banish their suggestions, if one turns away in mind from the first mental impulse and has one's mind deaf and dumb to their barking and directed towards the depths of the heart and so does not at all agree with them, then to such a one they cannot do any evil, since his mind is sober.”
And so, brothers and sisters, let us be aware of the realities of the spiritual life and let us acknowledge and be prepared for the battle being waged against us. We must be vigilant and we must set that ‘watchman’ at the gate of the doors of our heart, lest the poison of evil thoughts enter and blossom into impatience, irritation, anger, and that legion of evil that can take hold of us.
Let us also take consolation and courage from today’s Holy Gospel as we see the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ over the evil one. As soon as our Lord set foot on the shore of Gadarene, the legion of demons possessing the poor man called out that Christ would not torment them. The very presence of the Light of Christ threatened the darkness of the demons. Just as we see in our worldly life, when we shine a light into a darkened room, the darkness is no more – so it is with the Light of the Grace of God, which banishes and eradicates the darkness of the evil one.
We must cling to God, pursuing goodness and purity of heart, for goodness and a pure heart welcome the Light of God, whereas evil deeds and malice resist the light and prefer to hide in the darkness. We read in the Gospel of St John that, “the light has come into the world, yet men have loved the darkness rather than the light, for their works were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be may be made manifest, for they have been performed in God.” (John 3:19-21)
May today’s Holy Gospel inspire us to see and acknowledge the realities of the spiritual life, to understand that our spiritual life is one of warfare in which we must pursue the good and resist evil, and that we have the privilege and opportunity to call upon and cling to the One Who has overcome all evil, the Divine and Eternal Light, our Lord Jesus Christ.