Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost – 2019

My dear friends in our Lord: Glory to Jesus Christ!

Just as the fruits of the earth and a healthy variety of foods will strengthen and gladden our physical bodies, so also spiritual words nourish our souls, filling them with gladness and grace. But whereas physical foods are finite and will be broken down and decompose, spiritual food, meaning the teachings and lessons of the sacred Scriptures, contains joy without end and bestows upon those who are truly and blessedly nourished by them the graces of incorruption, eternal life, and bliss. Therefore, just as we desire to eat when we are hungry and to drink when we are thirsty, so ought we desire to listen to the words of the sacred scriptures, for from hearing them we derive profit and great gain.

If until now we have been negligent, let us put away our negligence; if we are diligent, let us become even more diligent. Let us open wide our hearts and receive within them the life-giving and saving seeds which are the words of the holy Scriptures. Let us water our hearts from the abundant fountains of the Gospel of Christ our Saviour, that they may produce and yield divine fruits of righteousness and truth, that we may be fed by eternal food in the age to come and may avoid eternal famine.

Before we take a look at the episode that we’ve just heard in today’s Gospel reading, I think we would do well to look at the scene that occurred just before our Lord arrived in the land of the Gadarenes. It is good for us to recall it. Do you remember? The Saviour was sailing on the Sea of Tiberias with His disciples, and they were in the midst of a great storm, while He slept. This He did according to His plan, in order to teach His disciples, and to test their faith, as to whether they would remain unshaken in a time of trial.

Their weakness was exposed; they did not exhibit perfect faith, but faith still mingled with disbelief. They believed that the Lord was able to save them, yet they cried out, “Save us: we perish,” as men of little faith. If they had possessed perfect faith, they would have been certain that it was impossible for them to perish while they were with the all-powerful Christ. He then arose and rebuked the wind. He had allowed them to be troubled and tossed by the storm, that His power might be made more manifest, and that their own faith might grow.

It is certainly of a truth that we usually remember better the one who rescues us from great perils; therefore, Christ arose and saved them not at the beginning of their ordeal, but at its very height.

Moreover, this was an image of what would later befall the disciples. The lake was is an image of the land of Judaea, upon which there descended a storm of fury against Christ, whereby the Jews were so enraged as to crucify Christ. The disciples were also troubled; they all forsook Him and fled. But the Lord arose from sleep; that is, He rose from the dead; and once again there was calm for the disciples, as He stood before them and said, Peace be unto you.

The disciples, then, said to one another, Who is this?, not because they did not recognize Him, for they knew Him to be God and the Son of God; but because they were astonished at the magnitude of His power, they marvelled, saying, Who is He?, as if to say, What sort and what manner of man is this, and how great His power and authority, whereby He commands even the winds and water, and they obey Him?; never have we seen such a thing.

To outward appearances He was a man, but His works were those of Almighty God, of Whom the Prophet David said, Thou art sovereign over the strength of the sea, and the tumult of her waves Thou makest calm. The Psalmist also said, He spake, and a wind of tempest arose, and the waves thereof were lifted up.

The disciples were troubled and shaken, and all their wisdom, that is, their seafaring skill, was exhausted in the face of the storm therefore, they cried to the Lord, and He delivered them from their distress. And He commanded the tempest, and it was calmed into a breeze, and the waves thereof fell silent. And the disciples were glad, because they were quiet, and Christ guided them to the haven of His will.

Let us also understand, my friends, that the Church of Christ is a ship which finds itself on the sea of life in this world; it has its sailors, the clergy and the faithful, who have Christ ever with them. Nevertheless, fierce tempests often befall it; numberless waves of woes dash this holy ship. While countless trials and tribulations descend upon it, all the fury of the evil spirits also rises up, and they bring men to the very terror of death. Although Christ remains with His friends who believe in Him, in His providence and love towards man He often permits them to suffer trials, and might seem as if He were asleep. When the turbulence becomes truly too great, and men look for an end of tribulation and woe, and the sailors can no longer withstand the storm, then it behooves them to go to the all-powerful and merciful Lord with earnest entreaties and tears of fervour, to cry out to Him and say: Save us! We perish!

Truly, God will arise speedily, and will drive away all fear; He will rebuke the forces that assail us; He will change weeping into cheerfulness; He will spread abroad a safe and untroubled calm. In His mercy He will not despise those who put their trust in Him. As He said by the prophet, Call upon Me in the day of thine affliction, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me. For no one has as much pity on himself as God has towards all of us; often He effects wondrous rescues, directing us to greater love for mankind by His providence.

After this great tumult upon the waters, our Saviour arrived at the land of the Gerasens, together with His disciples, about which we hear in today’s Gospel. It was not the wind which brought them to that place, since the wind had died down; rather, the Lord willed it, in order to bring peace and healing to a man who was troubled by evil spirits.

The man came forth naked, not knowing that he was naked; for when demons possess a man, they cause him to lose his mind and his reason, and denude him of all goodness. When the demon saw our Lord, he cried out through the man, “What have I to do with Thee, Jesus?” It was as if he said, What have I and You in common? For him to say this was the act of one furious and shameless, while to say, “I beseech Thee, torment me not,” was the act of one cowering and fearful. Not only did he utter the name of our blessed Lord; he also referred directly to the character of His nature: Son of God most high, in saying “torment me not.”

What he says is this: We shall go out as You command, Lord, yet let us not be tormented. The evil one asks to be left alone so that he may deter us from the path of our salvation in peace.

Such were the words which Legion spoke through the man, being unable to withstand the power and might of our Lord. Having experienced Him to cast out many demons, the demons here beg that they may not be forced to go into the abyss, but that they may still be allowed to enter a herd of swine, like unto themselves.

Our Lord knew their treachery, and was not ignorant of what they were planning, yet He gave them leave, not as giving the swine to the demons, but for other purposes. Firstly, to show the man who had been delivered how many and what sort of demons he had within him. Secondly, that all might understand that the demons cannot enter even into swine, or do them harm, unless the Master permit them. Thirdly, because the demons would do crueler things to men than to the swine, if they were not restrained by God from carrying out such things, if they were allowed to do whatever they wish; and it is clear that the demons hate men much more than irrational animals. It is on account of men they destroy animals, being eager to do harm to men through inflicting such a loss. And finally, because the death of the swine would provide an assurance that the demons had departed, and that in instigating harm, they themselves were more greatly harmed. Thus, their wickedness and their weakness were exposed, and Christ’s power shone forth.

By the power of Christ demons are driven away from those who are aided by reason and virtue. Contrarily, demons enter into those who wallow, like swine, in the muck of concupiscence, and who separate themselves from God. These, the demons push and urge on to their perdition.

One who is such has in himself the works of the demons: he wears no clothes, that is, he does not have the garment of holy Baptism; he does not dwell in a house, that is, in the Church, but rather in the tombs, that is, in the sepulchral and shadowy dwellings of deadly deeds. Fornication, usury, drunkenness, and other such sins: these are all graves of spiritual death; they that are overcome and enslaved by them, and die without repentance, die an eternal death.

Seeing the chaotic end of the herd of swine, those who kept the swine fled. The swineherds’ flight was an occasion of salvation for the Gerasens, yet they understood it not. It would have been right for them to marvel at the Saviour’s power and to believe in Him, but instead they besought Him to depart from them, because they feared that they might suffer some further harm, just as they had lost the swine. And Christ departed.

Where men lead a swinish way of life, and reject the good, there Christ does not remain. The man who was healed revealed the incontrovertible fact of his healing; he was now in his right mind, and so he recognized Christ, and fell down and besought Him that he might be with Him. He was afraid that, if he were far from Christ, he might once again become easy prey for the demons. Our Lord, however, showed him that even if he did not remain in His company, it was possible for him to be protected by His grace and to be beyond demonic attacks. Return, He said, to thine own house, and show how great things I have done unto thee.

The man who was healed was indeed so grateful that he did tell everyone of the great things that our Lord had done to him, and even to this very day the news of the great things done by our Lord is being retold, as it has been here among us today.

Now, my friends, inasmuch as we have learned how great and how many are the evils done by the demons to those who submit to them and are possessed by them, let us not be held fast by their passions, lest they do worse things to us.

While the sinner is not without his external, physical garments, he is found to be stripped of his divine inner clothing of grace and the glory and honour which are its due. Indeed, the sin-loving lecher is naked in a worse way than was the demoniac in today’s Gospel; for the body is inferior to the soul. The body suffers no harm, though it go through a change of clothing, but when the soul is stripped of its divine vesture, it is greatly harmed. If it is not converted with penitence and tears, it runs headlong into the abyss of perditon. The sinful soul does not stone itself with stones, but with sins, which are far more cruel than stones.

Let us, my friends, strive to be free from all disordered passions and to be above the harm caused by them; and we do this by that freedom offered to us, each and every one of us, in that grace communicated to us by Christ Jesus our Lord.

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