The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (8:26-39)
Every year around this time, mid-October, we hear this powerful somewhat frightening story in the gospels about a man who is possessed by demons. Modern psychologists and scientists tell us that that was probably some kind of mental illness. They tell us that the people of old were not very sophisticated and did not properly understand these things so they attributed them to superstitions. The problem with all of these theories is that they completely ignore the words and actions of Jesus of Nazareth in response to what He has encountered. In addition, these baseless theories ignore what happened to the herd of swine. Something more than psychosis was certainly at work here.
The Scriptures and the New Testament speak of demons and the demonic as a reality of our fallen world. Just as there are angelic spirits, ministers and messengers of the Lord, likewise there are demonic spirits that serve Satan who is himself a fallen angel. We know that Satan and the demonic exists because we believe the teaching of Jesus Christ, we believe that He is trustworthy…much more trustworthy than anyone who has ever lived. We believe that He was tempted by Satan in the wilderness and also cast out demons from people on a number of occasions. We also believe the witness of the rest of the Old and New Testaments.
So we are left wondering, why was this man possessed? More importantly, what can we as Christians do to protect ourselves from demonic influence. One step to avoiding demonic influence is guarding our senses. When I say this I also mean that parents should be working to guard their children’s senses. What should we be guarding against? Anything that trivializes sin or distorts our Christian worldview. I am thinking about the shows and movies that we may be allowing our kids to watch, I am thinking about the smartphones that suck the children in, and of course there are other things. We even have to be vigilant regarding what is being taught to our children in the schools.
Regarding our children, St. John Chrysostom says “In children we have a great charge committed to us. Let us bestow great care upon them, and do everything that the Evil One may not rob us of them. But now our practice is the reverse of this. We take all care indeed to have our farm in good order…. We take care of our possessions for our children, but of the children themselves we take no care at all. Form the soul of thy son aright, and all the rest will be added hereafter.”Homily 9
It goes without saying that it is much easier to implement these things for our children, if we as adults do them as well. If we are not vigilant regarding these matters, we will slowly be affected and we can be manipulated and turned away from the Lord and His path. Let us not think of our senses as something given to us merely for our pleasure or for the doing of my will, but rather as a gift given to us as a way for us to seek, to know and to experience God. The senses were given to us for the doing of God’s will and the living of a true, holy life.
We can also avoid demonic influence in our lives by filling our lives with Christ and the things of Christ. We can fill our lives with the word of God, with the lives of the saints, with the hymns of the church, with the holy services, with prayer, with the sacraments, especially the life giving Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. We can also fill our lives with acts of mercy, kindness and love…even towards those who hate us and despise us.
All of these works act like a torch and they disperse the darkness of demonic activity that swirls around us. If Christ is present as the center of my life, the demons will be forced to scatter as they did in today’s gospel reading. They will be more like annoying gnats and less like fearsome dragons, because God is much greater than our greatest enemies.
Finally, I want to leave you with a quote from St. Theophan the Recluse, who lived in the 19thcentury, he wrote:
“You must never be afraid, if you are troubled by a flood of thoughts, that the enemy is too strong against you, that his attacks are never ending, that the war will last for your lifetime, and that you cannot avoid incessant downfalls of all kinds. Know that our enemies, with all their wiles, are in the hands of our divine Commander, our Lord Jesus Christ, for Whose honour and glory you are waging war. Since He himself leads you into battle, He will certainly not suffer your enemies to use violence against you and overcome you, if you do not yourself cross over to their side with your will. He will Himself fight for you and will deliver your enemies into your hands, when He wills and as He wills, as it is written: ‘The Lord thy God walketh in the midst of thy camp, to deliver thee, and to give up thine enemies before thee’ (Deut. Xxii, 14).”
Let us not fear the Lord, like the villagers in today’s gospel. Let us also not fear the demons. But let us take every opportunity to cling to the Lord Jesus Christ and to become a part of His world, instead of trying to jam Him into our world. Then we will be like the man who was healed in today’s gospel and we will be able to declare all that God has done for us. Glory be to God Forever AMEN.