Passions – the way to demonic possession

Sermon of His Reverence, Archimandrite Parthenius, on the 5th Sunday after Pentecost, delivered in the monastery refectory, 21 July 2019 AD
Archimandrite Parthenius Bigorski

From today’s Holy Gospel, my dear ones, we heard about the way our Saviour, our Redeemer from the captivity of the dark forces, Lord Jesus Christ, healed two demon-possessed men, demonized.   (Matthew 8,28-9,1). So, today’s evangelical even tells us about the most terrible state a man can be in – the demonic possession.

The Apostle Matthew – and this event is also mentioned by Apostle Mark – describes that when Lord Jesus Christ came to the country of the Gergesenes, which was neighbouring to the land of the Gadarenes, there were two demon-possessed men that lived outside the town, at the cemetery. They were exceedingly fierce, gone wild, twisted, and violent, so that no man might pass by that way (Matthew 8,28). Obviously, the whole town knew about them and everybody avoided them as dangerous. They were so demonized, obsessed, deprived of individuality to the extent that their being did not even exist; they were simply ruled by the spiritual wickedness in high places (Ephesians 6,12) – demons.

This state of demonic possession is not a myth or just a story; nor means for threatening. No, it is a reality and it does exist. No matter how hard some people try to deny or ignore it – I mean people that do not believe in the existence of neither angels nor demons; not to mention God – yet, their existence is an undeniable fact. Once, a doctor, an experienced psychiatrist from the psychiatric hospital in Slepche, was telling me exactly about this. Namely, he himself, during his many years of experience with various patients, concluded that beside the mentally ill patients, there are also those who have something supernatural within; something so strong and monstrous. Mental illness and the possession by the evil spirits often go hand in hand; but with some patients the presence, or the possession of something supernatural is obvious. Some of them who seemed utterly weak and exhausted and this was their real state, showed such an aggression during an affective state that not even ten caretakers could handle a single weak, ill patient! Thus, the doctor concluded that in such moments, those people must have been attacked by some supernatural, inhuman power of spiritual origin. What a horrifying state!

Contemplating about this, a question arises: Would the good God want that man, His best beloved creation, His child, to be in such captivity by evil spirits? Of course, no, not in any way! The man himself is the one who, in his free will and choice, brings himself in such a terrible state. In the beginning of the Holy Scripture there is an explanation as to how the evil spirit deceived our grandmother Eve to take the forbidden fruit, although God had previously warned the first created people that they’ll die if they taste from that fruit: „No, ye shall not surely die; for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil“ (Genesis 3,1-4) What a lie! But, still, our grandmother believed in it and we know what happened after. Mankind fell in the trap of the devious. Thus, a man willingly gave the right to the fallen angel, Lucifer, to govern the world. That is why, when Christ came to recreate the mankind, He said this in one occasion: now shall the prince of this world be cast out (John 12,31).  How did the devil become a prince of this world? Who allowed him? Certainly not God. Man, in his free will gave the right to the devil to govern this world.  On the other hand, God does not want to destroy anything He created.  He is the creator even of the once most beautiful angel, Lucifer, who fell because of his pride. Thus, it is not God’s guilt, but our own free will and choice. We are the ones with the right to choose our path. The path of sin and darkness; or the path of light as Christ testified about Himself: I am the Light of the world. He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life (John 8,12). Not that we will immediately become sinless and shall not fall again, but at least we would never bring ourselves to such a dark state of being lost, possessed by demons, not knowing what we are doing. Being humans, we fall due to our weaknesses and stand up again through repentance. But those who completely reside in sin and do not mind about salvation of their souls are thoroughly darkened and do not know their way.

So, we already said that the demonic possession of the two men living at the graves is the most horrifying state. But no less horrifying was the attitude of the locals. Namely, when they saw that the pigs, their property, were drowned in the sea, their minds completely darkened. It should be noted here that they, being Jews, are not allowed to eat or breed pigs – since the pig was considered a dirty animal in the Old Testament. Despite the prohibition, they had such a business – they bred and sold pigs, thus violating the law of Moses. This is the reason why God allowed the demons to get in the pigs; a kind of sobering and a warning sign for the Gergesenes and Gadarenes. At that point, all pigs rushed down and drowned into the sea. It is well known that no animal kills itself; but these, since possessed by the devils drowned themselves. When the local elite realized that their revenue – or profit as they call it today – was gone, they came out of the city to intercept Christ and ask Him to leave, not allowing Him even to enter their city, so that He wouldn’t by chance cause some other damage or ruin some other business. Imagine the miserable souls these people had! They had before them the One Who healed their fellow citizens, once angry like monsters now meek as lambs, they stood before the Deliverer from the dark slavery of the prince of evil; the Healer of the human souls and bodies and alas – told Him to leave. They did not care at all for the amazing miracle that had happened; nor for the possibility that this Healer could surely heal all of their ill citizens, who were certainly a lot; instead, the pigs were the ones that mattered, the profit, the material. They chose the temporary, the passions, symbolically – the pigs, instead of their loved ones; and in the end – instead of God. “We beg you to leave us. We are ok this way. We love pigs, pleasures, passions, money… – we don’t need You”. One cannot decide whom to pity more: those possessed by demons or the’ normal’ citizens. I would say, we should pity the latter more.         

However, do not you even think that the Gergesenes and the Gadarenes were the only ones to reject the Saviour. We too have told Christ the same thing, on many occasions! Doesn’t this modern world constantly tell Him: “Please go away”? And in doing so, it falls into the worst state of being possessed by demons. We push Christ away and willingly give space to the devil, making him, whether consciously or unconsciously, a prince of this world. Let us take for an example the producers of cigarettes, narcotics, health – damaging materials… Although most of them are aware that they produce something bad and very harmful, they continue to do so. They remain deaf for the voices of scientists who repeat over and over again that the air, water and the whole nature in general is getting more and more polluted, the ozone is destroyed, now more than ever we need clean air for the planet God created for us to survive. Despite all this, you can see everywhere cigarette factories, narcotics production, radioactive emissions in the air and the waters…  To some point we should try to understand the producers – blinded by greed for money, they would tread on everybody and everything just to gain some profit. But what is with the consumers – what are they doing?! Killing themselves consciously! For an instance, on the cigarette boxes it says: “Smoking is harmful”, accompanied by terrifying pictures of organs damaged due to smoking. And yet, they do that. Demonic possession! Something quite irrational. They knowingly kill, first themselves, and then their children and all the neighbours; yet they say they love people. How could they love them? ­­If I love people, I will not do anything harmful to them. Even our own body, is not just ours, it belongs, above all, to God, Who created it. The body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Know ye not, asks Apostle Paul, that your body is the temple of the Holt Spirit which is in you and which ye have from God, and that ye are not your own?  (1. Cor. 6,19) Who am I to destroy the temple of the Holy Spirit? And have even less right to destroy the lives of others. But, behold what man is like, how miserable we are? Very miserable.

Let us thank God for His such enduring patience, His immense love for us! When our careful God and Creator saw what misery His most beautiful creation fell into; He Himself, the Second Person of the Divine Trinity finally became a human, just so that He could bring us towards life and freedom. In today’s evangelic reading He showed us His power over the evil. If you are with Him, you will have Him as a support and deliverer, you will conquer the evil. He Himself told the Apostles: Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you (Luke 10,19). This is true for every Christian who follows God’s path. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me – says in the Psalms (Psalm 23,4).

When a person, whether consciously or out of insanity, or unconsciously, whether deceived or being inert, devotes themselves to the sins and the sinful way of life, it inevitably leads first to damage of the mental health, then to the physical one, as well. The largest part of physical diseases, including the worst one – being possessed by demons, are a consequence of sin and come through the soul. We have all heard about the psychosomatic diseases. The doctors nowadays link so many diseases and ill conditions to the stress. “This is due to the stress, that comes from the neurosis, from being stressed” and so on.  It is assumed that up to 60% of all the human physical diseases result from the spiritual condition. When a person is constantly angry, filled with hatred and envy – such person is seriously ill.  First mentally, then physically as well. There is a saying in our people: “Look, he turned pale out of envy, one can tell by his face how much he eats himself from within” People suffering from envy and malice can be recognized by their appearance.

Passions and sins cause the worst human disease: hopeless sorrow, or desperation. That is probably the last stage, a threshold of demonic possession. A desperate man is a rebel against his God. That is why the Church considers desperation a horrifying, deadly sin. The Old Testament Sirach Book of Wisdom says: Do not give yourself over to sorrow, and do not afflict yourself deliberately. Gladness of heart is the life of man, and the rejoicing of a man is length of days… and remove sorrow far from you, for sorrow has destroyed may, and there is no profit in it. (Sirach. 30,22-25). He who gives in to excessive sorrow, puts himself in devil’s hands. God wants us to rejoice life: I came that they may have life and have it abundantly (John 10,10) – says Christ.

Therefore, let us choose the right path, the path of feat and struggle with sins and passions, for the sake of love towards God and people. During each Holy Eucharist Lord Christ comes in the land of our hearts, to banish the demons away. Let us not be like the unthankful Gergesenes from today’s Gospel but try to be good hosts instead; to accept in our soul our Lord the Deliverer. Then we will certainly come out of the demonized state, we will leave the land of Gadarenes and Gergesenes and enter the landscape of Divine rejoicing.

May God honour us with it!