A sermon of His Eminence the Bishop Parthenius of Antania, Elder and Abbot of the Holy Bigorski Monastery, delivered during the Liturgy on the Feast of Pentecost, on the 25th of July, 2021 year of our Lord.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit! Today, my dear ones, we have heard from the Holy Gospel about the miracle which our Lord Jesus Christ made with the two possessed men from the country of the Gergesenes (Matthew 8, 28 – 9,1). We have been given a description as to how evil and dangerous these demonised men were: exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way. They had chosen the cemetery, the place of death, for their dwelling place and caused fear to passers-by so that everyone was afraid to go by them, because they were especially fierce. But the Saviour went voluntarily to them in order to heal them from the years long misery.
St. Gregory Palamas says that Christ our Lord made this miracle to show His disciples that He has the power over the evil spirits too, and that He has come to liberate humankind from the demonic tyranny and the realm of darkness. Just minutes before that He demonstrated that even the forces of nature obey His commands, when He ordered the storm which had taken the boat they were in, to calm down. Then the disciples wondered and kept asking themselves: What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him (Matthew 8, 27). Now, as the Saint explains, “According to His providence and out of His own mercy and will, came to help those who had been tormented by the demons for such a long time” (St. Gregory Palamas, homily 45). God asked one of the demonised what his name was, to which this one replied “A Legion”, because so huge was the number of demons that have possessed him. (Luke 8, 30). He asked not because He did not know this, but for His disciples to hear that the demon is not alone, but rather there is an important multitude of evil spirits. A legion was, in fact, a Roman military unit consisting of several thousands of soldiers. Imagine now just how vaste the spiritual realm within men is and how much evil can a single human being contain! But here comes the Saviour and Redeemer from the dark evil forces, which fiercely pursue to destroy the man who had willingly given himself to them. He comes to us on His own for the sake of our salvation and redemption. We have heard from the Gospel that after he had banished the demons from the Gergesenes, they became completely new persons, reasonable, meek, and humble, and having recognised Christ as the Redeemer of humankind, came and bowed down before Him. Still, the evil spirits, who wanted to continue their rule over creatures, pleaded with God that He should send them to the pigs instead. And to our wonder, He truly allowed them to enter the pigs, so the pigs rushed downhill and drowned in the sea. Probably some of you would wonder why Christ allowed the demons to enter the pigs. Actually, the pigs belonged to the inhabitants of the neighbouring town Gadara, although, according to the Jewish Law, they were not supposed to breed pigs and eat their meat, since at that time the pigs were considered impure animals. But the people of Gadara were obviously avaricious and earned money in an indecent way, breeding pigs in spite of the Moses law regulations. They cared more about the money, the earnings, rather than the Divine Law. That is why God dissipated their property. And that is why these Jews, having learned what happened at the cemetery, instead of rejoicing for the recovery of their fellow citizens, who had been incurably ill and dangerous till then, they got disappointed about the loss of their pigs. So instead of inviting our Lord and showing their gratitude, asking Him to continue with the good deeds on their behalf, for the salvation of their town and other dwelling places, they came out to intercept Him, thus prevent Him from entering their town and asked Him to leave their place. Cherished the earnings and the profit from the pigs more than the salvation of their neighbours.
With today’s event God wants to teach us that a single human soul is more valuable than the entire material world. He says the same thing in words when He states the following in the Gospel: For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matthew 16, 26). In the eyes of our Saviour every human being is precious, because, by His grace, he enters the eternity when he leaves this world. So human life exists not just from man’s existence on Earth. In fact, his existence here is so insignificant compared to the eternal life which begins after his departure to heaven. Therefore, our Lord teaches us, through the moral of today’s Gospel to appreciate our neighbour more than fulfilling our selfish ego with profit and material goods.
Unfortunately, the world today is trapped into a horrible, I would even say, demonic state. According to the experience of the Church, the greatest treachery of demons is to manage to conceal their presence. Although demons are invisible to most of us – many people do not even believe in their existence – still one can without doubts remark the negative consequences of their activity in the world. The modern man is literally torn apart by them. Just how many different phobias, asocial behaviour, anxiety, panic attacks, irrational aggression, paranoia, and other mental disorders, including the latest which are hard to conceive even by the psychologists, are there in our time, especially among the young population… People constantly run to psychiatrists and psychotherapeutists, looking desperately for a way out of this dark state of mind. Are not these phenomenon and conditions as a result of the demonic influence? This terrible state of demonism in today’s society, happened because people abandoned and forgot about God, thus giving in to the powers of darkness.
In many aspects the world of today resemble to the situation of the citizens of Gadara. Just look at how many young people today give in to the slavery of the temporary and fake pleasures, consuming various narcotics, manufactured and sold by people who are interested only in their filthy and bloody profit! Countless number of young souls become slaves of evil, because even the drug addiction is a form of a horrible demonic possession. The addicts, having been overpowered by the demons, destroy themselves and their surroundings. But the drug manufacturers and dealers do not even care about it. The only thing they are preoccupied with is their malicious and venomous profit. This demonic state is present not only in the narco-world, but literally in all the spheres of today’s living. Just look at the way man – inspired, certainly, by the dark forces – persistently destroys the planet we live on. Take, for example, the means of transportation based mostly on petrol and oil consumption. The extent of pollution is of so far unseen proportions. In the past years we have been witnesses of such rapid global warming, of extinction of many animal and herbal species, water pollution and many other ecological catastrophes. However, despite all this, in spite of so many alternative energy sources with far lower level of pollution, we can see that the world industry still produces petrol consuming machines. Electrical vehicles have been invented long time ago, but the oligarchy of this world, who see the oil industry as a source of great profit for them, do not care about the disaster happening to our planet Earth, which has been created by God and entrusted to us for living, as its guardians and masters. Obviously, with everything going on around us, we have proven to be bad hosts, inattentive landlords who care more about satisfying their low desires and lusts, than about preserving the resources, and ensuring the well-being for future generations. The various lusts and vices present in men are driven by their modern idols. Instead of being worshipers of the benevolent God, Whose presence makes us more compassionate, with greater self-sacrificing love towards our neighbours, with more intense feeling of empathy towards our fellow-men and the entire creation, we have become terribly egoistic and perilous to everything around us.
What God wants, my dear children, is to liberate us from our destructive vices which could bring us to the most horrific disease – the demonic possession. The evil spirits could harm man only if he allows them to enter his soul, by giving in to passions and sins. Therefore, beware of it and please try hard to restrain from indulging in the perilous passions. It would require a persistent spiritual struggle and alertness of the mind as well as rejection of bad thoughts. We should always be selective regarding the issues our mind is occupied with, because it should preoccupy itself with prayer above all, also with the enlightenment of the Divine words, feeding constantly on the words of the Gospel message and the teachings of the Holy Fathers. The first psalm goes as follows: Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful… And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper…
Let us pray to the merciful Lord, so that He opens the hearts of people, above all, of us, the Christians, because we are familiar with the word of God, are in possession of the Divine Revelation, and have been privileged to take communion with the body and blood of the Redeemer and Saviour of our souls. May He fulfil us with His presence so that we could heal and save our souls and the souls of our neighbours. For His is the glory and honour and praise, together with the Omnipresent Father and the Most Holy and Life-Giving Spirit.