The Fifth Sunday After Pentecost

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Today’s Gospel concerns the casting out of demons from two possessed men, their entry into a herd of swine and the suicide of those swine. There are several things that we can learn from this Gospel.

Firstly, we should note that the Gergesenes who owned the swine were disobeying the Jewish Law. The Jews did not and do not eat pork. The Jews who lived in this region were therefore disobeying their own Law. That is why the swineherd ‘besought’ Christ to leave their area, virtually chasing the Son of God away. We cannot help thinking that the disobedience of these people explains why two of them at least had become possessed.

Therefore we learn that disobedience of God leads to misfortune.

Secondly, it is clear from the Gospel that devils exist and that they can possess men. All too often we meet naïve people who call themselves Christians but have been so hoodwinked by the Devil that they maintain that devils do not exist and that they most certainly cannot enter into men. Such people have clearly not read the Gospel with understanding and have little experience of life. In this context we may ask ourselves about the meaning of the word ‘possession’. The Fathers of the Church, many of whom we commemorate today, tell us that that we cannot simply become possessed overnight. Possession is the ultimate stage in a process. The first stage of that process is when we begin to surrender our free will and we ‘entertain’ demons and demonic thoughts in a habitual manner. The second stage is when demons come to obsess us; we are almost unable to fight against demonic influence over us. Demonic thoughts stalk us, becoming an obsession. The third stage is possession, when demons actually come to live inside us, to own or possess us as their property. This is when we have totally surrendered our free will to resist.

Therefore we learn that the Devil and demonic possession are realities.

Thirdly, in today’s Gospel we should notice three characteristics of the devils. First of all, they dwell in tombs. They live in tombs because the devils are spiritually dead. Also the devils are violent, alien to the spirit of peace, ‘exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way’. Finally, the devils are also believers. This should not surprise us. For the devils are bodiless, spiritual beings, fallen angels. Here we should remember that there are many sorts of spirituality, one of which is the spirituality of the demons. Unlike men, who are made foolish because they are deluded by bodily, material things, the devils see reality as it is, they see the spiritual basis of all things. Thus they confess Christ as He really is: as the ‘Son of God’. They have no illusions that Christ may only be some man, albeit a prophet, or a mere man though of great intelligence or giftedness. No, He is the Son of God and that is clear to them. The devils know spiritual reality. According to one Father of the Church, St Simeon the New Theologian, the devils lack only one thing: Love. Indeed, according to him: ‘theology without love is the theology of the demons’.

Therefore we learn that Love is the abiding characteristic of God.

Lastly, we see from today’s Gospel that animals may sometimes behave better than men. For what do the two men possessed by devils do? They survive, living among tombs. On the other hand, the entry of devils inside animals is enough to make them commit suicide. They cannot bear the presence of evil within them. Yet very often we hear that some people have ‘behaved like animals’. This is often untrue and unjust. Animals, for example, do not kill their own species. Animals are sensitive to the presence of evil and fear the presence of supernatural demons, running away from them. This is because animals, who have no eternal, immortal souls, belong to the natural world and fear the supernatural. Men, on the other hand, belong partly to that natural, material, bodily world, but partly to the spiritual world. They are therefore subject to the influence of spirits, whether the spirits of God from the angelic world, or else to the spirits of Evil, from Satan.

Therefore we learn that we are all subject to spiritual influences, to the spirit of evil or to the spirit of good.

What are we to do? Let us flee the spirit of evil. Otherwise we too will finish by living in the tombs of the spiritually dead. Otherwise we too will be owned by devils and none will pass our way. Otherwise we too will run ‘violently down a steep place into the sea and perish in the waters’.

And let us instead of all this cleave to the Spirit of God, which we know from the Gospels, from the Apostles, from the Fathers and from the Saints of the Church of God.