19th Sunday after Pentecost – Orthodox Homily on Gadarene Demoniac

Christ’s last commandments to His Disciples, the Holy Apostles, before His Ascension was “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matt. 28:19-20).  The Apostles and their descendants have carried out this holy mission since that time, planting the cross of Christ throughout the world, bringing the truth and new life in Christ to all peoples. 

It’s also been the teaching of the Church since that time that the Orthodox Faith is sent to transform and transfigure a culture and its people, through baptism.  As Orthodox, we do not destroy the cultures we evangelize, we redeem them, bringing the light of Christ to them to expel the evil from them while recognizing their distinct identity within the larger Body of Christ.  

For this reason, when St. Innocent came to Alaska, he didn’t attempt to make the native peoples ‘Russian.’  Rather, he learned and then translated the holy services and divine texts and Gospels into Aleut, Tlinget, and the other native tongues.  Like St. Paul preaching to the Athenians their “Unknown God” (Acts. 17:23), St. Innocent taught the native Aleuts that their ‘spirit houses’ were the resting place of those awaiting the Second Coming of Christ and the Last Judgment.  He baptized them with crosses and the indigenous peoples were taught the resurrection of the dead.     

But where does the ‘baptism’ of the American culture stand today?  We see that the Protestantism and Catholicism brought to the East coast, while still dominant, have declined in influence.  Holy days are now truly ‘holidays’ for most, if celebrated at all; they’ve lost their original meaning or been completely divorced from their original Christian purpose.  

We see this transformation in our modern American celebration of Halloween, for instance, originally called, “All Hallows Eve.”  What was a solemn and sacred remembrance of those faithfully departed, much as our Soul Saturday commemorations are during Lent, has now become in many parts an opportunity to celebrateghosts and goblins, monsters and even witchcraft, which is, in fact, Satan worship.  The underlying message inherent in today’s secularized culture is that evil doesn’t really exist, that these caricatures of witches, monsters, ghouls are somehow ‘cute,’ part of a fictitious, mythological past, and, therefore, harmless.  Many aren’t even familiar with the holiday’s original meaning. Certainly, rather than being baptized, the culture has usurped the meaning of this once solemn, holy day. 

For us as Christians, there are two errors, flip sides of the same coin, we can commit here: One is that we teach others that demons and those who worship Satan are just innocent ‘fun’ and that there’s really no such thing as witches, demons, and the devil himself, which we are contributing to by playing along with it; the other is to attribute too much power to Satan and his minions, the demons, and those who serve them.  

Holy Tradition clearly teaches us that Satan and his demons are fallen angels that we do have to contend with and fight against.  St. Paul reminds us of this truth when he writes, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).

Our Lord Jesus Christ had numerous encounters with the possessed (those indwelt) by the demons; they were tormented and controlled, forced to do the demons’ biddings and, ultimately, became their slaves, destroying themselves and others. Today’s Gospel is one such true account.  

The Gadarene demoniac is a man possessed and tormented by a whole legion of demons.  He was, literally, out of his mind, naked, violent—little resemblance to a human being remained.  He was “bound with chains and shackles” and, appropriately, but tragically, lived in the tombs. He is truly among the ‘living dead,’ being so enslaved by the demons who control his animal behavior.  

Now, we don’t know how this man came to be possessed.  There are certainly many sins and practices today that can give the devil a foothold.  All people are capable of coming under demonic influence.  Some even come to be possessed.  Demonic possession continues in our own day, but since many people no longer believe in evil even as they no longer believe in God, much of what is actually demonic possession is misunderstood or misdiagnosed.

Certainly, much of the otherwise unexplainable evil toward children, violence and malevolence we see in the world today can only be attributed to demonic possession or influence.  Only the healing in Christ through new life in Him, the exorcism of the demons, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and our continued “Yes” to God’s salvific work in us, drives demonic influence away.  There is power in the Name of Christ and His cross, and refuge in His Church.

The first part of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism is exorcism, a necessary precursor to putting on Christ: All demonic activity is expelled from the neophyte, the one to be baptized, that Christ may come and make His abode with him by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  Likewise, at the baptism, the priest makes the sign of the cross over the waters to put the demons to flight. Now, these are not some archaic theatrical displays. Rather, these are sacramental acts communicating the timeless Truth of Christ and His divine power and mercy toward us, His victory over all evil. 

Christ came that we may be free of the demons, their control and influence, by daily choosing life with Him who is the Life of all—the One who has power over the devil and His demons.  They fear God, as we see so clearly in today’s Gospel: “What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg You, do not torment me!”.  Christ came to equip us by the Holy Spirit to do battle against the spiritual forces of wickedness, to overcome our passions and the demons’ temptations that wage war against our life with God, so that, we can triumph over the forces of sin and evil and become witnesses of the hope for a truly deified, angelic life—the fruit of communion with the living God who calls us to true humanity in Him.  

As Orthodox Christians, we don’t fear the demons: “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world,” (I Jn. 4:4).  At the same time, as Orthodox we don’t downplay the reality of the evil we’re fighting against or contribute to others thinking that witches, demons, and ghouls are innocent fun or make them look ‘cute’, nor do we participate in activities that may make others think that this is what we believe as Orthodox.  Satan is described by Christ as the “murderer of man.”  The devil and his demons are bent on our destruction, as we see in today’s Gospel.

As for the Gadarene demoniac, Christ shows His power as God over the demons by casting them out and sending them into a herd of swine where they drowned at sea. The man went his way, liberated from his demonic enslavement and proclaiming through the whole city what great things Jesus had done for him.  

What “great things” has God done for you?  Thank Him for His goodness, mercy, and love foryou, His forgiveness of your sins, His calling to a virtuous life that fits you and me for His eternal Kingdom?  Thank God for His protection and deliverance from the evil one.  Demonic possession is a reality.  As Orthodox Christians we should think through how we participate in Halloween or anything that downplays that reality to make sure we’re not contributing to that which denies the reality of spiritual warfare or which tries to make the servants of the evil one into something innocent or fun.  Instead, we have the opportunity to shine with the light of the Gospel, to baptize the culture through our own actions, bringing the light and truth of Christ into all that we do and say—not just at Halloween, but, more importantly, every day.  We can teach our children examples of Saints who defeated the enemy and his minions like St. Demetrius the Myrrh-streamer, whom we commemorated just yesterday.  There is power in the Name of Jesus Christ, in His cross by which He defeated sin and death, all evil, and we call on His name. 

Christ God gave the Gadarene demoniac new life, restoring his humanity. Christ God gives us new life by virtue of our baptism and sealing by the Holy Spirit in Chrismation, and continued growth through the sacramental life in Him as we daily put on the armor of God.  He offers us healing from the passions and the opportunity and strength to witness to His life-saving truth in the world around us.  So, let us give thanks to God today for His freedom from the bonds of the enemy. Return to your own house, and tell all what great things God has done for you! 

Fr. Robert Miclean

Holy Archangels Orthodox Mission

Sunday, 29 October, 2017

Epistle:            II Cor. 11:31-12:9

Gospel:            Luke 8:26-39