In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The events of today’s Gospel occurred just after the descent of Our Lord from Mt Tabor where He had been transfigured. They are described to us in the three Gospels of St Matthew, St Mark and St Luke. These events raise a number of questions which we are called on to answer.
The first question is: What was the precise nature of the illness of this man’s son?
This was no ordinary illness or medical condition, for our Lord cast a demon out of the son; the man’s son was possessed. It was not therefore ‘epilepsy’ as some modernistic translations have it. Indeed in liturgical English, the child is described as ‘lunatick’. This word refers to the concept that our mental condition can change according to the phases of the moon. I do not wish to express an opinion about the truth or untruth of that concept, I would leave that to experts, to physicians. However, I do believe that this word ‘lunatick’ does reveal a deeper truth. Just as the moon changes, so there are a number of illnesses which cause a great changeability or instability in character and modern psychiatry has various names for those illnesses. And we can see this changeability or instability in the sick son. Sometimes he would fall into the fire, at other times he would fall into the water. In other words the demon, who lived inside the son, was trying to destroy him by burning him to death or drowning him, in order to occupy that soul to all eternity.
The falling into fire and water also show us how the demons abuse God’s creation. Fire is not a tool with which to burn and destroy, but a gift of God for heating, cooking and other useful activities. Water is not a tool with which to drown, but a gift of God for drinking and washing and other useful activities. Moreover, we can see how fire is also a symbol of the fire of passion and anger which can possess those who are attacked by demons, and water is a symbol of the waves of melancholy which can also possess those who are attacked by demons.
The second question is: How did the demon get inside the man’s son and possess him?
To this question we have the reply of Christ: ‘O faithless and perverse generation’. The demon came into possession of the son through unbelief, faithlessness. Not only the son’s unbelief, but also the unbelief of the father and others around the son who could have cared for him and given him faith. However, as with everything that God allows to happen, there is a positive, Providential aspect to this illness. It is clear that because of the illness of the son, the father has been brought to know humility. Thus he calls Christ, ‘Lord’ and asks, ‘Have mercy on my son’. This shows humility, not pride. The proud man does not address another as Lord, for he considers himself to be Lord. And the proud man does not ask for mercy, for he considers that he does not need mercy. In other words, the father has become realistic, for the very word humility in English comes from the word ‘humus’, which means ‘earth’ or ‘ground’. In another words, to be humble is to have one’s feet on the earth, to be realistic, and not to submit to the illusions of pride and self-reliance.
The third question is: What is the solution to the sickness of the son?
The answer is ‘prayer and fasting’, for this is how Christ casts the demon out of the son. For prayer is not talking about God, as some imagine, it is talking with God, as we know. And fasting is not some kind of secular dieting, it is abstaining from the things of the body in order to draw nearer to the things of the soul. Prayer and fasting are the deepening of faith. The Fathers of the Church call prayer and fasting a ‘two-edged sword’. In other words, where there is prayer and fasting, there is faith. And as a Father of the nineteenth century, St Theophan the Recluse, wrote: ‘Where there is no prayer and fasting, there are the demons’.
Referring to the word of St Theophan, we could say therefore that much of the modern world has become the dwelling-place of demons, for the modern world mocks prayer and fasting. And referring to the instability of the demoniac son, we can also refer to the instability of the modern world. It seems that each day that passes brings us news of some new instability, some new disaster and misfortune.
In this last month in this country we have heard of the case of two young girls, abducted and murdered in a town where, it had seemed, nothing ever happened. This case should be especially close to us, for the town of Soham is where one of our two main patrons, St Felix, founded an Orthodox monastery in the seventh century. Indeed the successor to St Felix as Bishop of East Anglia was a monk, called Thomas, who came from that very monastery. How is it that in such a small town this double murder of children occurred? Clearly, because that town has lost its monastery, lost the holy relics of St Felix which were once honoured there, and in that town today there is no or not enough prayer and fasting. Otherwise the demon who clearly impelled the murderer of those two girls to carry out his crime could not have acted. The demon who pushed him into this deed would have been prevented by the presence of prayer and fasting.
Internationally, we can say the same of many other terrible problems. ‘Where there is no prayer and fasting, there are the demons’. We can take, for example, the case of AIDS. A disease that has killed tens of millions and destroyed the lives of millions of innocent children: ‘Where there is no prayer and fasting, there are the demons’. The same can be said of the problems of the many wars that have erupted in all parts of the world. Here it is the demons of hatred who impel mankind to self-destruction. ‘Where there is no prayer and fasting, there are the demons’. Or the case of the pollution of the environment, of God’s Creation. Here it is the demons of greed who impel mankind to self-destruction. And the same is true even of so-called natural disasters. Would God allow earthquakes and hurricanes, floods and forest fires, to take place if there were pious people who were fasting and praying in those regions, impeding the demons from having the freedom to act in their quest to see man destroy himself?
The fact is that, whenever we our faithless and cease to pray and fast, then we lose the protection of the grace of God and we are beseiged by demons and the world falls into fire or water. And we should not think like the inhabitants of the town of Soham that we are immune to any disaster. The words, ‘It could not happen here’, or ‘Nothing ever happens here’, are no longer true. In Russia before the Revolution people said the same thing, but holy men like St Theophan the Recluse, St Ignatius, St John of Kronstadt and many others, all correctly prophesied that if people did not return to faithfulness, to prayer and fasting, then a great disaster would befall them. And so it happened and Russia became the favoured resort of the demons: ‘Where there is no prayer and fasting, there are the demons’. As the Apsotle says: ‘God is not mocked’ (Galatians 6, 7).
On the other hand, where there is faith, there is prayer and fasting, and there the demons cannot go. All is possible if there is faith. Faith moves mountains. We have the words of Christ which tell us this.
Moreover, where there is no faith, there is no hope but despair. And where there is no hope, there is no love but hatred. And where there is neither faith nor hope nor love, there you will not find the mother of these three virtues, Wisdom. Instead you will find foolishness.
For who is Wisdom? Wisdom is the Wisdom of God, the Wisdom of the Word of God: Wisdom is Christ. So where there is no Christ, there is no Wisdom and where there is no Wisdom, there is neither love, nor hope, nor faith. And the land of no faith, no hope, no love and no Wisdom is the destination of the contemporary world, if it does not change its direction. It is not too late. As today’s Gospel has made clear, it is all a question of faith. Let us then be faithful.