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July 9, 2017; Matthew 8:28-9:1
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The topic of demon-possession always seems to provoke interest. I suppose that’s because sin, and its servants, fascinate us. Demons can, at first, appear as “angels of light,” as the Apostle warns us (2 Corinthians 11:14.) They can lure us like the sirens sweetly singing to Odysseus. Their song is so seductive, and Odysseus is desperate to respond, but his men, per his instructions, have tied him securely to the mast of the ship, and placed beeswax in his ears. Because of the careful preparation by Odysseus, and the obedience of his crew, they were able to navigate passed the Island of the Sirens, and press on toward Ithaca. If we were to use this ancient epic poem as an analogy for spiritual warfare, I think we would see the binding as our Orthodox Christian faith and Church. It’s interesting how our very word “religion” comes from a Latin word meaning to “bind” something together! The mast, well, that’s an easy one. It represents how our faith and our Church grant us access to the power of the precious and life-giving Cross of the Lord. As we sing in the services, “O Cross of Christ, Thou art mine invincible protector, my strong defense against the demons” (Matins, Ode 9, Third Sunday of Lent). And what can the beeswax in the ears represent? Wisdom. Wisdom is a gift which comes from God, and is, in fact, God Himself. Solomon says: “For if wisdom shall come into thine understanding, and discernment shall seem pleasing to thy soul, good counsel shall guard thee, and holy understanding shall protect thee; to deliver thee from the evil way, and from the man that speaks nothing faithfully” Proverbs 2: 10-12 LXX.) The Church fathers like to use the image of the bee for the Christian who works tirelessly, going from flower to flower, in order to drink the fragrant nectar of truth. The person who possesses wisdom and truth, has effectively blocked his or her ears to the sticky-sweet falsehoods of the demons.
So what happened to these two unfortunate men, that they became possessed by demons in the first place? St. John Cassian, quoting the words of Abba Serenus, wrote this:
No one who has experienced spiritual warfare, can doubt that our foes are continually lying in wait for us. By this we understand that they oppose our progress by inciting us to do evil things, but not forcing. No one would be able to withstand (their temptations)...if they possessed the power to force the evil upon us, as well as suggest it. They have in them the power to incite, and we have the power to accept or reject their provocations. But if we are afraid of their power and assaults, we can also claim the protection and assistance of God against them, about which we read in holy scripture: "For greater is He who is in us, than he who is in this world" (1 John 4:4).  His aid fights on our behalf with much greater power than their hosts fight against us... It follows then that no one can be deceived by the devil unless he has chosen to yield to him, by the consent of his own will. Ecclesiastes clearly states it in these words: "For since there is no resistance by those who are quick to do evil, therefore the hearts of the children of men are filled with the desire to do evil" (Ecclesiastes 8:11 LXX). It is therefore clear that each man goes wrong from this - that when evil thoughts assault him he does not immediately meet them with refusal and contradiction, for it says: "resist him, and he will flee from you" (James 4:7).”
So demon possession does not happen without consent. The Gospel shows us how this happens. First it says that the demoniacs were living in the tombs. This represents a choice – a choice to live for this world which passes away, rather than for the Kingdom of Heaven. A choice of living in the flesh which will die and rot, rather than in the Spirit which brings life and joy. Next, the Gospel says that they were exceedingly fierce – so fierce that they drove others away. What we need to realize is that anger, wrath, bitterness, judgement, abusiveness, condemnation, all of these are tools that we use to vent our pride on others. This has a very serious effect; it drives our friends, our relatives, and our fellow human beings away and instead, whistles for the devils to draw near! And last, the Gospel records that the demons, speaking through the two men, said: “What have we to do with Thee, Jesus, Thou son of God.” This really gets to the heart of things. A person can be very far away from Jesus, having nothing to do with Him, because they are atheists, or agnostics, or communists, or whatever. That’s one thing. God will judge, not I. But even so-called faithful Orthodox Christians, who are outwardly very “religious,” can be very far away from Jesus. He is rarely on their minds, they rarely speak to Him in prayer. His commandments have very little effect on their lives or their thinking. The Lord even referred to such people when He said, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Matthew 15:8). How can we say we love the Lord Jesus, if we don’t follow what He teaches? How can we say we love the Lord Jesus, if we don’t even know what He teaches? The Lord Himself said, “If you love me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). If we love someone, and they are away, some distance from us, and they write us many, many letters, wouldn’t we read them? Wouldn’t we kiss them? Wouldn’t we hold them close to our heart? What are the Scriptures, if not the love-letters of God to us? How can we know what they say, if we don’t read them?
So, choices are what lead to the demon-possession of the two men in the Gospel today. Each and every day we too are confronted with choices, many choices: Death and Life; Darkness or Light; Evil or Good; the world and the flesh and the devil, or the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. We always have the power to choose correctly, but the temptation from our spiritual foes is always there. As Moses once said to the Children of Israel:
"I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life...”
(Deuteronomy 30: 19-20)


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