主日經文 馬可福音 Mark 9:17-31
李亮神父 講道 Sermon by Father Jonah
我要和各位談一談偉大的靈修領導者、聖徒John of Climacus。我們也稱他作John of the Ladder，因為他是《The Ladder》一書的作者。學習神學，瞭解正信的信仰很重要，然而，知行合一更重要。魔鬼對於神學也有很多的瞭解，然而，他從來不實踐。John of Climacus創造了教會的靈修。幾乎每個人都知道，應該要遵行教會的靈修，卻沒有人能夠從起點直接跳到終點，達到圓滿的愛的境界。沒有人可以在初進教會的懵懂階段，就突然得到上帝的恩典，獲得預先知曉或施行奇蹟的能力。
圓滿的愛的境界是上帝最高的恩賜。我們必須循序漸進才能達成這個境界。John of Climacus在著作中提到，如果我們無法控制我們的食慾，我們要如何掌控我們的思維？可見真正的自律，要從小地方做起。（儘管這本書是為了僧侶而寫的，但是，除了某些特別的章節，例如：「如何成為僧侶」和「修道院的生活」等章節之外，一般的教友也適用。）在人類身上，傲慢無所不在。這就是為什麼他談論「如何謙卑」和「人生有限，我們終會死亡，應將死亡放在心中」，他教導我們放下對於錢和其他身外之物的執著。跟隨John of Climacus的教導，一步步向前邁進，我們就能成為屬靈的人。每個人的心中都有許多好的種子，每個人的身上都充滿了善。重要的不只是行善，還要去惡。我們身上的壞習慣和壞習氣起因不同，它們可能來自於社會環境、自己的遭遇和回憶、教育背景…等。我們無法改變過去的生命，卻能改變自己，讓自己越來越好。除了行善之外，我們應該跟隨教會的教導，透過屬靈的方式去除障礙，不斷提昇自己。屬靈父親的角色對我們非常重要，除了告解之外，我們還需要從他那裡獲得教導。他給予我們的，不是他自己的想法，而是來自教會的想法。正教會的屬靈父親並不會對你說：「恩，我想你應該……」他和醫生不同。醫生研讀醫學，利用醫學的知識做出主觀判斷。當然，屬靈父親擁有自己獨特的個性，然而，他通常會告訴你正教會的想法，而不是他自己主觀的想法。
因此，我們必須謹慎看待這些事情，因為魔鬼是一個非常出色又經驗豐富的心理學家，他們總是能找出我們的弱點。Parthenius of Lampsecus是一位非常偉大的神父和主教，他擁有驅魔的能力。有一次他經過市區，有一位富人迎面走來，對他說：「你好，神父，請為我祝福。」Parthenius神父卻轉頭不理。有一位隨行的執事看到了就問他：「為什麼你要這樣做？這樣很不禮貌。」那位富人又說：「請為我祝福。」神父還是轉頭不理，並且對執事說：「這位先生已經被魔鬼附身了。」這位執事說：「要不要為這位先生做點什麼？」Parthenius用手指著那位先生，說：「以耶穌基督之名，請你從這個人身上離開。」然後，這位先生倒在地上滾來滾去，之後又爬起來。他問大家：「究竟發生了什麼事情？」他看起來很平靜，此時Parthenius才對他說：「上帝祝福你。路上小心。」
Mark 9:17-31 17 Then one of the crowd answered and said, “Teacher, I brought You my son, who has a mute spirit. 18 And wherever it seizes him, it throws him down; he foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth, and becomes rigid. So I spoke to Your disciples, that they should cast it out, but they could not.” 19 He answered him and said, “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him to Me.” 20 Then they brought him to Him. And when he saw Him, immediately the spirit convulsed him, and he fell on the ground and wallowed, foaming at the mouth. 21 So He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 And often he has thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 23 Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” 25 When Jesus saw that the people came running together, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it: “Deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and enter him no more!” 26 Then the spirit cried out, convulsed him greatly, and came out of him. And he became as one dead, so that many said, “He is dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. 28 And when He had come into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” 29 So He said to them, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer and fasting.” 30 Then they departed from there and passed through Galilee, and He did not want anyone to know it.
This Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent, as we see in every Sunday of the Great Lent, the Church puts in front of us some teaching to tell us how to be spiritually prepared for Easter. On the other Sundays we saw the importance of the great theology, the faith. But today the Church puts before us something more practical, which is in our everyday life.
Today we will talk about the great spiritual leader, Saint John of Climacus, named after the famous book that he wrote. It is OK to know theology and to be in the correct faith, but if we don’t apply this practically, what is the point? We may become theologians like the Devil, who knows theology but he doesn’t apply any. So the Church puts forth John Climacus here because he makes the spirituality of the Church is very important. Everybody knows that they should follow the spirituality of the Church, but nobody can jump from the very beginning to the perfect love. Nobody can become, from his very beginning of entering the Church, where he does not know even the faith, and then suddenly have the Grace of God and the gift of prophecy, or to do miracles or things like that.
This is why I say that many times people say to me, “Father, I have thoughts,” or “I don’t have the perfect love.” And I say to them, “Who do you think you are? The perfect love and these things are the ultimate gifts of God.” But it’s not so easy to develop this, and there are levels. For example, from the first level that John of Climacus writes, and of course his books are about monks. But it’s not only for the monks, except for some chapters where he speaks about the monastic life and how to become a monk. But generally, much of what he writes is for all of us. So, for example he has no disciplines, not even small disciplines like fasting, how can he have bigger disciplines, like controlling one’s thoughts. He said, “If you cannot control your stomach, how can you control your thoughts?” So if you think you want to have the perfect attitude, but you cannot even control small attitudes [pointing to his stomach] you should understand that what you want to do is impossible. And he sees in human beings the pride that is hiding everywhere, which is why he speaks about how to feel humble, to keep the thought of death in our minds, to remember that we are human beings and that we are going to die. So it is useless to have so much money, and not only money, he says to have a great idea about ourselves because we are already in the graves. And all these things he teaches us, if we follow these steps, they can make us into real spiritual people. Because everybody has good seeds in his heart, everybody has good attitudes. The important thing is not only the good attitudes, but in parallel, what is going on and what is growing out, because in parallel with the good attitudes there is growing other bad behaviors and bad habits. These habits come from different sources, for different reasons: from society, from our own memories, from our education, from different things that happen in our lives. We cannot change our past life, but we can change ourselves and we can improve ourselves. So it is not for somebody to say, “I have good attitudes.” Yes, everybody has good attitudes, but in parallel we have so many obstacles. And we must relate to these obstacles through the spiritual way and through the guidance of the Church. Here the role of the spiritual father is very important, who is not for Confession, that is something different, but to give guidance: not his own ideas, but the ideas of the Church. An Orthodox spiritual father does not say to you, “Hmm, I think this…” Like a doctor, who studies, will say to you according to the medicine. Of course a spiritual father has his own personality, but generally he will say to you what the Orthodox Church says, and not what he says.
And I say about the obstacles that they grow in parallel, and we forget about them. The Gospel for today reminds us about one very big obstacle, which is not a thing, it is the Devil, and this is very important for many of us. I don’t like to speak about the Devil, but the Gospel says, and so I have to say this and so I speak about it one or two times a year, because the Gospel says it. And it is very important that today we do not forget that evil is not impersonal. It is not an abstract evil in the world; what is this? God did not create evil. And don’t think that what we are saying is just to threaten you. Christians are not afraid of the Devil; we know him and we must know him. But in the Lord’s Prayer where we say, “Forgive us our transgressions as we forgive others, and deliver us from evil.” What evil? If you see in the Greek language, for most of the Fathers of the Church it is “the Evil One;” it is not an abstract evil. So we mention the Devil when we say the Lord’s Prayer, and from this point of view, every day we say, “Deliver us from the Devil.”
Now to say a few things about who is the Devil. God did not create devils; God created angels with all of his glory, images of him, big mirrors of him. But he gave them also freedom; and then some of the angels, and their leader, hated God and they wanted to break this communion, to live by themselves, to be individuals and to be separated from God. And so separated they became against everything good, against God, and against every other thing that God loves, and every other thing that has the image of God, and all the things that have the stamp of God, that are mirrors of the love of God. And this is true especially in the case of human beings, because God loves us so much, and He knew that He loves us so much that He became human. So the devil influences human beings, and today in the Gospel we see that the devil entered a child.
I want to say a few things. First, from a medical point of view, and we have doctors here, the kid seems to have seizures, seems to have epilepsy, and as the Gospel describes, grand mal. But it is not only epilepsy because his father says that the child throws himself into the water and into the fire, which is not common because this thing can happen everywhere, even now it could happen to me also. So there is a difference between epilepsy and epilepsy with a murdering attitude. For example, if the child throws himself into the water or into the fire, maybe where there is cooking, this is very strange. And this is why Jesus Christ here casts out the demon. For example, when he cured the blind person he did not cast out any demon. When he cured lameness or other diseases, he did not do this. So we see that the influence of the devil is behind some diseases.
The Bible does not say why this happened to this kid, as it does not say to us many other things. But it is important to understand and to protect our children. This is why we baptize the children very young, and this is why the first Christians did so for protection. We give them protection since they have Jesus Christ inside themselves. And also we see in outside influences how many demonic figures there are in electronic games. They become implied in the memories of the kids. They learn so young to have so many murders [moving hands as playing a computer game] by electronic games, right? It’s not that I don’t like electronic games; you know I am full of electronics. But the memories and the education and what is created in this generation, which is not like us [pointing to himself], but which is growing up with this new food in their minds. And it will create the devil with probably bad results.
So we can distinguish the direct influence of the Devil, and as we can see in the Bible there are also other demon-possessed people, we see that the shout, they have very strange behavior. Some psychologists say it is like a Tourette syndrome or some other things. But this can be; it’s not every person who behaves irregularly or in a crazy way is demon-possessed. We have many spiritual fathers who see, and they have a test. For example, somebody can have epilepsy or other syndromes; but why does the Liturgy mention this. Or others may have some holy relic in their hands and they don’t say anything, they just say hello. Then he who is demon-possessed, if I have here [showing his closed hand] some cross or some holy relic, even though he does not know what I have, he will have a crisis, which shows it is not a medical situation, where he could take medicine to control it and maybe become well.
And second, we can see that many demon-possessed people have very strange abilities. For example, they can say what happened in your past life, not your future. I experienced this many, many years ago when we prayed to some demon-possessed woman. And this is very important because a normal person who is sick will not say truths about your past, because the Devil knows my past – not all, what I have confessed, he has no power to tell. I experienced this, really, I confessed together with some friends when I was in the university and we took a demon-possessed woman to the church and she started shouting, but she could not say to us anything. She said something only about one other friend, but she did not say to me or the others. Yes, I know my past, and she was very angry.
So, what I say is to understand that there is the Devil, who is influencing people around us and they need the prayers of the Church. This is why the Church has special prayers, exorcisms, which in the name of Jesus Christ, and by the power of Jesus Christ, the Church can cast out a demon. So, this is the first part of the influence of the Devil.
But there is another instance of the Devil, which is very covert, which is very secret, and this is very dangerous. And this is why even for somebody who is not obviously possessed by a demon, before Baptism the Church always reads the exorcisms, because there can be a secret influence of a demon. And for this we must be very careful. See for example, when Jesus Christ said, a little bit after today’s Gospel, that he would be crucified; then Peter took him aside and privately said, “No, no Lord, this can never happen to you!” And Jesus said very harshly to him, “Get behind me, Satan. Because what you say is not from God.” He called Peter Satan; imagine a very harsh and strong word to whom? To Peter, to whom he had said a little bit before, “You are the Son of God.” And this is very important: was Peter Satan? The Bible says that Jesus called him Satan. Many interpreters and generally theologians of the Bible say that it was Satan who used the mouth of Peter to say to Him, “Don’t be crucified.” Because Jesus wanted so much to suffer for us, and for Satan this was the only thing that he did not want, because this thing could stop his power.
We must not over-simplify things and just say, “It’s the evil in the world.” In the Gospel of John it says that Jesus Christ came to stop the works of Satan – finished. And in Peter’s letters what do we see? “The devil is like a lion against us.” So that Jesus came to stop his works and his power is a very important thing, and we must not forget that we do not fight against abstract things, but against personal enemies who know us, because they have been here for so many years before us. Of course they are good psychologists and they know how to use your reactions.
It is very important to see something even worse than this, because Peter, you know Christ never called him again. Peter obviously was shocked and he did not continue to say this. Peter was a very hot-blooded person, not stable, later he was proud, later he denied Jesus Christ, and then he repented. But see about Judas – and this is very important because recently we experience here the work of Judas. But at the Last Supper, Jesus tried so many times to say to him, “Don’t do this,” don’t betray him, because Judas has already decided to betray Christ and he had taken the money. But even at the Last Supper Judas was sitting next to Jesus, who said so many times, “Don’t do it.” But when He left the room, the Gospel of John says that Satan entered into the heart of Judah. Did Judas start shouting and falling down like one demon-possessed? Not at all. Very cool and concentrated, he went to the Jews, he took the soldiers, and he committed the biggest sin, very coolly. So it is the other kind of demon-possession, a very cruel kind of possession where nobody shouts, because it is better to shout, to fall down and to do all these things that the devil-possessed people do. That would be better because they would see. But very coolly, he went to betray Jesus Christ.
And this we must consider very well. It is not me, alone who says this; it is the Gospel. And Judas was an apostle, he was with Jesus Christ, and yet the Devil entered into his heart because he opened his heart. The Devil did not enter into the others, he entered into Judas because he started to you know [makes back-and-forth gesture] make excuses, and he said, “I am not responsible, I must obey the high priest,” all these…we can always find excuses. So this secret demon possession is the most terrible thing that can happen to us, and actually happened, has happened as you can see, to priests, who can commit especially very big sins: heresy, splitting the Church and many other things. This is the Devil.
And we see, even Caiaphas, who arrested Jesus Christ, said, “One person must die for the people.” And the Gospel of John says, Caiaphas did not say this by himself, but by the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit spoke through Caiaphas because he was the High Priest at this time. So from one point of view, the grace of the Holy Spirit works. And as the high priest, he prophesied as the high priest should do. And from the other point of view, he crucifies Jesus Christ.
See how dramatic and how important is our relationship with God. It’s not a social relationship: “Hello.” “Hello.” It is a very dangerous, I say dangerous, relationship for life and death. And you may say, “How about us?” I did not say we are demon-possessed, no. But the demon influences us. This is why you see the prayers of the Church for exorcism say about the demon who hides in the heart and imitates in the nervous system or something. For example if I feel very bad, like I feel very desperate. Maybe one thought will come, like a whisper, “Commit suicide.” The demon is like an orchestra: we have so many thoughts; one more instrument enters, and this instrument says, for example, “Commit suicide.” And if I am so down that I say, “OK, I will commit suicide,” and I jump from the balcony, then the demon did his job, and he is very happy.
And you will say, “How do I know about my thoughts?” But before I explain this, I will bring up another example from my spiritual father, who really had power over demons and he knew. One girl, she was about seventeen, they brought to him. She had something like epilepsy and was biting her lip and falling down. She had been to many doctors, who had given her medicine, but it did not work. He talked to her and he said, “You know, right? You do this.” She said, “No.” He said, “Talk to me,” because he knew who she was. The girl did not have epilepsy; she had a kind of nervous situation, but she was not demon-possessed. He told her, “You cause this, right?” She said, “No I don’t cause this, and I don’t want this.” He said, “You do this when the others don’t pay attention to you,” because she wanted to be beautiful and a little bit of low self-esteem. So she wanted to attract the attention of the others. He said, “When the others don’t give you the attention you need, you bite your lips like that, right?” And she said, “Yes.” He said, “And then what?” She said, “I do this [scrunching his face up] and I do this.” And then she would be lost because by this time her mental power is stopped because of this anger to take revenge on the others. It’s a kind of psychological blackmail. The she would lose control and the demon enters or the nervous system goes down, and she makes a fake epileptic seizure, which is not exactly like the real one. At this time it was a unique revelation to the girl, that she was causing to herself these things.
So we must once more say that we must be very careful in what we do, because always the Devil is a good psychologist – with more understanding than the normal psychologists, because he has experience – and he wants to cut us where he can and where he finds our weak points. You can see the life of Parthenius of Lampsecus, who was a very great Father and Bishop, who had authority over the devils. One day, he was passing through town and a very rich man coming the other way said to him, “Hello, Father, bless me.” But Partenius turned his face away. One deacon who was with him said, “Why do you do this? It’s not polite.” The rich man again asked, “Bless me.” But Parthenius again turned his face away and told the deacon, “He has a demon inside him.” The man was demon-possessed and even he did not know it because the demon had never created any big, obvious problem for him. And the saint did not want to talk with the Devil. So finally, the deacon said, “But do something.” So Parthenius pointed at the man and said, “In the name of Jesus Christ, go out of this person.” The person fell down, rolled around and then got up and said, “What happened to me?” He was very peaceful, and the saint said, “God bless you and go on your way.”
So we see, there are a lot of things around us, spiritual things that we don’t know. Actually, Chinese traditions are full of spirits, demons, all these things; and they believe in these things more, I think, than Western people. They are not crazy, these things are happening. And don’t think, I’m so good that the demon will not tempt me. The Devil tempted who? Jesus Christ. If the Devil tempted Jesus Christ, do you think he will not tempt me, or he will not tempt you? So we must be very careful about these things. And actually, what the Devil does not want, is for us to know these things, and to be aware of these things, that behind people or behind methods there may be the Devil.
And the Devil hates not only God, of course he hates the Church. If it were possible to take a bomb and destroy the Church and all of us, he would do it. So this is one thing, and the other thing is that, from one point of view, although we should be aware of the Devil, we should not be afraid of him and we should not concentrate on him. So somebody could ask, “So what should we do.” First of all, as I say, we should focus on Jesus Christ. When we take the body of Jesus Christ inside us, then the Devil is so afraid of us, because he sees God inside ourselves. The Holy Communion is not like a candy, where if you do the church the honor of visiting the church and taking part in this, you must be aware – by I don’t know what prize – that we should be hungry for Jesus Christ. He is hungry for us because of His love, but we don’t do the honor to him of responding to his love. We think that “I’m a good person; I did not harm any person and I did not kill anybody. So what? Do we deserve a big reward if we did not kill anyone. But it is not like this. We take the Holy Communion – also – as the biggest protection against the devil. And this is why when we participate in the sacraments of the Church the devil has no authority over us. Indeed , he is very afraid very scared, and he goes away. This is one thing.
And he tries by other means to separate us, especially from the Liturgy and from the Holy Communion. The only thing that he does not want is for us to receive the Holy Communion. You can do whatever you what: prayers, be on your own, go to a mountain to pray for all the world; don’t eat (because does not eat anything, because he does not eat, he is the best ascetic). These things are what he wants. So we must not make a fake spirituality, because this spirituality is the spirituality of the Devil.
Now, the other thing is that we should not talk to the Devil; only Jesus Christ talked to him, we cannot have a dialogue with the Devil and say, “Devil, go away,” and blah, blah, blah, all these things: this is stupid. We should just ignore him. This is why the Church does not allow having exorcisms in public. I see on the internet that some sick people download exorcisms or these films that make the Devil. The Devil wants to attract attention from the people. So if we see all these things. “Oh” [making an expression of fixation] he is happy because he has power. So we don’t watch these things; we concentrate on Jesus Christ, we concentrate on the Gospel, we concentrate on our prayers. We behave like the Devil does not exist, even though we know that he exists. So we don’t study things that the Devil may have done. There are some sick spiritual books that tell about what the Devil did and what he said. We don’t care; the Devil does not exist inside the liturgy and inside the liturgical body of Jesus Christ. We study theology; we don’t study demonology.
And, as I say, we must confess regularly, because if the Devil sees something that we have, he will enter. For example, one spiritual Father says, “God asks from us a small coin for a small coin.” He does not ask for a lot of money; why? I cannot say, “I do this, but I do something else for the Church.” For example, I commit adultery but I donate things to the Church, so one balances the other; or I am fasting. This is useless; God does not do negotiations. He wants this [your actions] to be correct, and then the others. So to have a better understanding, we must – again – focus on Jesus Christ. And we should not forget this.
I remember, and it is very strange, one woman, I think she is still alive, she was a really holy person and a nurse in a hospital for crazy people. She was such a great ascetic in the middle of the world, living for one week on only the Holy Communion and water, but no other food. You can find these people, even in a big city like Athens or other places in the world, though you do not see these people often since the real saints are hiding. She told me once that she was approaching everyone with a real connection [pauses due to emotion]. She had the Prayer of the Heart, approaching everyone very strongly with the Prayer of the Heart. In front of her, all these sick, very crazy people were like lambs, so peaceful, everybody loved her; in front of her there were no crises. Later she retired because she was old and she went to a forest near my spiritual father to live there. Do you know what happened? They found her using dogs, and they said, “Please come back!” She said, “But I am retired now.” They said, “Come back because we have a big problem; nobody can control them.” So she was coming back two times a week just to visit the patients and to calm them down – because of the Prayer of the Heart that she had, and the holy love.
So I will stop here once more, and remind all of us of these things, and to be careful. As the Gospel says, there are demons and that they can seize us by many ways if we don’t focus on the Holy Communion and on Jesus Christ. Thank you. May the Holy Trinity protect all of us.