Photo: Ignorant Walking
2014.10.26 Sixth Sunday of Luke – The Abyss of the Love of God
St. Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy 2:1-10 TIMOTHY, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier on service gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to satisfy the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hardworking farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will grant you understanding in everything. Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descended from David, as preached in my gospel, the gospel for which I am suffering and wearing fetters like a criminal. But the word of God is not fettered. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain salvation in Christ Jesus with its eternal glory.
The Gospel of Luke 8:26-39 At that time, as Jesus arrived at the country of the Gadarenes, there met him a man from the city who had demons; for a long time he had worn no clothes and he lived not in a house but among the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him, and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beseech you, do not torment me.” For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him; he was kept under guard, and bound with chains and fetters, but he broke the bonds and was driven by the demon into the desert.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. Now a large herd of swine was feeding there on the hillside; and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them leave. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned. When the herdsmen saw what happened, they fled, and told it in the city and in the country. Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus, and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. And those who had seen it told them how he who had been possessed with demons was healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gadarenes asked him to depart from them; for they were seized with great fear; so he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but he sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.
Fr. Jonah’s Sermon:
This gospel that tells about when Jesus Christ meets the demons should be especially interesting to our guests today [who are students from a psychology department]. There is very deep meaning in that Jesus is going to a country where not only one person [has problems], but it is a very unmerciful country where most of the people are under some evil influence. And there is one person, who for some reason – we really don’t know what, probably his bad behavior or something – who was entered by demons.
But we see something especially deep: what the actions of demons to people are. We see first that the person lost himself and he was possessed. We must know that God never possesses us; He repects our freedom. When the Holy Spirit enters us, we never lose our consciousness. I say this because in Taiwan it is a common occurrence that someone touches a person [supposedly with the Holy Spirit] and that person falls down. This is not from God. God may fill your heart with wisdom and happiness, but you will never lose your consciousness. You may become full of love, but you will not shout and you will not say things that you do not understand.
And there were some other things that were happening to this man. Because of the demon he was naked. We remember that after the Fall, Adam and Eve realized that they were naked, so we see that here is a human being naked from everything: from respect, from glory, from everything. Also, we see that this person had been creating big problems, which was why the people had chained him to prevent him from destroying things, He was so powerful, because the demons have power, that he could break the chains if he wanted.
And the worst thing was his social condition since he lived not in the town, but in between the graves. We see that the demons want us to live in the place of the dead, not in the place of the living. This is a very important thing, that if the demon had the power to kill this man, he would have, but he could not do this. And today when we see movies, you can see the sickness of modern society in that people miss and want to have movies about vampires, Dracula, these things that are far away from love, not going to a movie to feel love and connected to other people, that you do something creative, you go where there is death. Then these pictures are in our memories and they bring to us the feeling and taste of demons, which is to lead human beings to death. And when I speak of death, I do not mean just death of the body, but the death of relationships. Because, as we will see, the person who is without relationships is already dead.
As with the people who are taking videos today, if you are a movie director and you are good at it, you could see how deeply symbolic it is that Jesus is going to the place where there are graves and when you see the demon-possessed person, it is actually the picture of humanity. Some good writer says, “Where Lord do you go, to go to our towns, the graves and demon possessed? You go to the forest, where Cain killed his brother.” There is a very famous Negro spiritual song from America that has these words, “Where you go Lord.”
So we see that when Jesus met the demon, he ordered him to go out of the person. But we see also that the Gospel says that the demon was causing the man to shout and fall in front of Jesus Christ, saying “What is between me and You, Son of God.” This shows that demon knows who is God. Sso there are two types of knowledge, two ways to know God. And we should remember that at this time the apostles and the other people did not know that Jesus was the Son of God; they thought he was something special, but they did not know very deeply.
But from another point of view, we can ask, “So the demon is a believer?” For example, if we believe that Jesus is the Son of God and the demon also knows this, so is he a Christian? No, he is not because it is how you know God. If you know God as power, that is the knowledge of a demon. How God wants us to know Him is as the Trinity, as love – not as power. This is why even though some Christians may say that they believe in Christ and they go to church, but they have the faith of the demons because they see God as a power that they try to manipulate. You do something for me, I do something for You. So, we must be very careful that when we believe in God, we know him as love; this is the faith of Christians. The faith of the demons is different; they see God as power and they are afraid of this power.
You see what the demon says. It is not as a lover or a good person would say when they saw God, “I am so happy to be with you.” The demon says, “Keep away from me.” This is very important even in daily life. If I say, “What is between me and you? I don’t care about you,” then this is the way of the demon; it is not a social way. God is communion, is union, is the three persons in coexistence, the sociality. From the time that I say to my brother, “I don’t care about you. What do we have together? Nothing,” this starts the way of the demons.
Not only this, Jesus said to the man, “What is your name?” And Jesus was not speaking to the demon, He was speaking to the human being, but because he was demon-possessed, the demon spoke for him. And he said, “Legion,” which was about six thousand Roman soldiers, so there were a lot of demons in him.
Then they spoke in plural, saying, “Don’t put us in the abyss.” So they know first that they are going to be punished, this they know, but you see nothing about repentance, nothing to say “God, I love you, please forgive me,” and of course it would be forgiven at once. So you see their attitude. They knew that they would lose, but they asked not to be put into the abyss.
What is the abyss? You can see that one of the psalms, I forget the number but it is very famous, it says, “Abyss calls another abyss.” [Psalm 42:7, see below] And what is one abyss? It comes from a Greek word, abyssos, meaning very great depth. It is the abyss of the ultimate love of God. On the Great Tuesday, when we sing the song of the woman poet, St. Kassiane, at the end of this poem it says, “The multitude of my sins and the abyss of Your love.” So you can understand.
So there is one abyss, the abyss of the ultimate love of God. Why is this an abyss? Because there is no end and it is totally….we cannot understand. But there is also another abyss: We are also an abyss, not as deep as the abyss of God, but the soul of each person is so deep, like a very deep sea. And the students visiting us today are studying this, the abyss of the human soul in psychology.
But there is the abyss of the love of God, and for those who love, this abyss is Paradise. And for those who cannot love and cannot socialize, if they live in this ultimate love and they cannot escape, for them this is Hell. The total absence of any communion, this is the abyss that these demons are afraid of. We read that when a great Father of the Desert, Abba Makarius, was walking in the desert, he saw a skull in the sand. Because he had the power of God he touched it and said, “Who are you?” and because he had that great power, God gave to the soul of the person whose skull it was the ability to answer Makarius. And he said, “I was a priest of idols and I was making human sacrifices.” So he had been killing people. And Makarius asked, “And where are you now?” He said, “I suffer a lot in the darkness. But when you pray for us, God allows us to turn and see one anther a little bit and this gives us comfort.” Because the great saint of the church, Makarius, was praying for everybody, and he prayers were so great that he gave them a little bit of community, and for one face to see another was a small comfort.
This shows that the ultimate alienation, the ultimate loneliness, this is the abyss that the demon is going to go into, and he is very afraid of this. But he does not want to change. And still he wants to put Jesus into a trap. He is begging Jesus, saying, “OK, we will leave this human being because you ask this, but allow us to go the pigs” since there were a lot of pigs there. Since the people of this town were working with pigs, there were maybe five thousand pigs, maybe more. So Jesus showed His good attitude and because the demon asked him a small favor, He said, “OK, go, I allow you.” Then because the pigs had become demon-possessed, they all jumped into the sea and died.
And from this point of view, we can ask, as our friends today may ask, because if you ask a modern psychologist about demons, he will say, “No, no, no. These are different powers, and they are not really demons.” But in Christianity we believe in God. We don’t care about demons or other things. But demons must exist, because how else could you explain why these pigs, who were eating peacefully there, suddenly all decided t commit suicide? That is a very important thing. If a person is psychologically sick, he can commit suicide, but what about the pigs? There were so many pigs who did this all together with no other reason; nobody was going against them.
So the demons wanted to trap Jesus, and from one point of view they succeeded because there were some people there to take care of the pigs and they went to the people of the town and told them that their property had been destroyed. But from the other point of view, we see that, on one hand they had proof of Jesus. Then people of the town came and they saw that the person who had been possessed was now wearing clothes because somebody must have given him some, and he was so wise and peaceful, sitting at the feet of Jesus Christ. We see the person who had been bad and antisocial was now in a good position and was loving Jesus Christ.
But when the people who had seen the pigs jump into the sea went and told the people of the town, those people said to Jesus, “Get out of our town.” It is amazing that one of their brothers who had been suffering had become well, no. They did not want Jesus at all, even though they saw that he had such great power. So you can understand.
But the person who had been freed from the demons begged Jesus to let him follow Him, because someone who is really clean wants to follow Jesus Christ, and it was also because it was possible for the demon to come back again. We see in the Gospels that although a demon has left a person, later he can come back again if we don’t take care of ourselves. And then he would bring more, the Gospel says seven more. And we see this even in the church. Before someone is baptized we read the exorcism so that if there is some evil power in him, it will leave. Then if this person does not pay attention, then even more demons can come back. This is because of free will: If we don’t want God then the demon will be very happy and he enters.
I don’t want to be misunderstood. It is not that every person who has psychological problems is demon-possessed, no. Of course people should go to psychologists or take medicine, of course. But sometimes the behavior is not because of some problem with the brain. You may see people who behave very badly to their family without any reason, who become very anti-social without any obvious reason, who see the Church and to go far away, who see the beauty and the glory of the Liturgy and the grace of God and to go far away. This is an indication that a demon has returned and brought even more demons
But when this person in the Gospel asked to follow Jesus, He said, “No.” But He gave him, as we see in Romans, the grace and the mission. Jesus always give two things. The grace was that he made him free, a human being full of the grace of God. And the mission was to go back to the people who had chased Jesus away and tell them what God did to you. So he became a missionary. We don’t know the result. Obviously, when Christianity spread, maybe some people from this town also believed. And remember also that all of us, you and me, we have the grace of God, you receive the Holy Communion, and you have the mission as well, to proclaim this grace of God to your house, not only by your words, but by your love and your sociality, by any creative and good things you do.
And there is one last thing I want to say, and that is that we Orthodox Christians are not afraid of demons, and we don’t care about the demons. We don’t have a public exorcism. This is a private thing so that the demon cannot show off. Indeed, when we receive the Holy Communion or when a priest blesses our house, the demons are afraid of us. Why? Because they see the Body of Jesus Christ. And so as the Gospel says today, the demons are afraid because they see God. So enjoy this grace and the love of God in your lives. May the Holy Trinity protect all of us.
6 O my God, my soul is cast down within me;
Therefore I will remember You from the land of the Jordan,
And from the heights of Hermon,
From the Hill Mizar.
7 Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls;
All Your waves and billows have gone over me.
8 The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime,
And in the night His song shall be with me—
A prayer to the God of my life.
Recorder: Prof. Baker