Sermon by Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky) on the Gospel Reading of the
Healing of the Possessed Man in Gadarene
There is an account in the Gospel about how our Lord Jesus Christ emancipated a poor man from the torment of possession, when not just one demon had taken hold of the man but an entire legion of evil spirits—the enemies of God and of mankind. When we read or hear this Scripture, we cannot of course fail to notice how the evil spirits who took possession of the man, seeing the approach of the Savior and knowing that their wicked violence and torture of the victim was coming to an end, began to implore Him that He allow them to enter a herd of swine foraging on the shore of a lake.
Take note of the fact that the Lord is always ready to fulfill the plea of His creation if it is only made with faith. The Lord may even, at His discretion, satisfy the pleadings of evil spirits.
He permitted them to do what they asked of Him. Without His Supreme will, they could not have done what they asked. When a priest begins to perform the Mystery of Baptism, he reads the so-called prayers of catechization, in which he drives the evil spirit from the soul of the person. He addresses the evil spirit directly, saying: “Know your idle power (not true power) having power not even over swine.” And had the Lord not permitted them, they could not have entered the unfortunate herd. But the question here arises: Why did the Lord permit this? For, fleeing the poor man, they possessed the swine and immediately killed them. The poor creatures, under the influence of a power they could not understand, threw themselves off a steep cliff into the lake and drowned.
Why did the Lord do this? What does this mean? St John Chrysostom, referring to this, points first of all to the fact that this “benefits those who hear,” so that they understood how the forces of evil hate all of God’s creation; they have so much loathing that, having been granted power over these poor creatures (which were also God’s creation), they could think of nothing else but to destroy them, for they hold nothing but the cruelest hatred for all that God created. Also, adds St John, “Christ did this so that you understand that if they—the demonic spirits—only could, they would do the same with mankind.” But only the power of God restrains evil spirits and prevents them from destroying mankind. Otherwise, as the Holy Fathers said, the devilish entities could, out of hatred, destroy all of mankind in an instant. Let us notice, too, that this is a herd of swine, and you doubtless know that according to Judaic law of the Bible and the Old Testament, swine are filthy animals which could not be consumed, nor raised. So the existence of the herd of swine was a temptation for the orthodox Jews, which is why the Lord permitted this temptation to be suddenly removed.
But there is also this, beloved children. In this Gospel reading we see how the local population, hearing of what happened, began to ask the Lord to leave them far behind. They did not invite them to their town--on the contrary, they pleaded with Him to depart. And as the Holy Fathers, the interpreters of the Holy Gospel, say, this was a sinful act in and of itself, for they (the people) feared that this unexpected Miracle-worker might come to their town and upset their way of life. They already endured the loss of thousands of swine when He was only approaching the town! What would happen if He entered the city itself? This is an example of the sin of greed. Something similar happens today, when a person fears allowing the Lord to enter his soul. Do we not sometimes hear from an Orthodox Christian such words: “We aren’t monastics. Should the same be asked of us as is asked of monastics and clergy? We are simple laymen.” And when they insist that their chosen way of life be left undisturbed, that no spiritual obligation be expected of them, then they remind us of the words of the people of Gadarene who emerged to encounter the Savior and ask Him to go far away from them!
Take care not to do the same with Divine grace, o man! Do not reject grace. Of course, in that instance, the Lord meekly granted their request, and left them, but He left behind an inspired preacher—the very man whom He exorcised, who later told the whole city what the Lord had done; his preaching so affected the people that, in the words of the Gospel, when the Savior visited the town once again, the people flocked to greet Him, bringing their sick for Him to heal.
Let us remember how the Lord taught His Apostles: “And whosoever shall not receive you… shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city."
Reading or hearing the Holy Gospel, we see how wicked spirits try to harm all of creation. And the Church teaches that they were created bright and good by God, but rebelled against Him, losing their good and illuminated traits, become dark powers of hatred. How the first angel fell is not known to us, the Church only says that the first among angels, created by God with special power and luminosity, resented his Creator and wished to rival Him. And there you have it, if you will, the first revolution! The first revolutionary was the Devil, who wished to start a revolution in Heaven, to inspire other angels against the King of Heaven, but was driven out in disgrace. He was the first revolutionary; all other revolutionaries have a kindred spirit with him… Let us remember that. But let us also heed that the Church, warning us against the cunning and hatred of these evil spirits, also brings us consoling angels who stand guard and protect all of mankind. It is for good reason that we repeat the words of prayer: “Protect us with Your holy angels…” for they truly protect us, especially our guardian angel, who never departs from the person, but is his most faithful, most virtuous friend.
Even when a person gives himself over to sin, and in this sin a demonic spirit could overcome him to his peril, the guardian angel protects the person, resisting the evil spirit’s effort to possess him, and protects him, hoping for his future repentance. Always remember that whatever difficult circumstances we may be in, whatever danger may befall us, if we call upon our guardian angel with faith, he will save us. For this purpose he is sent to us by the Lord, to guard us and repel all danger with his powerful hand.
Remember the life of St Tikhon of Zadonsk, the great miracle-worker of Russia. Once, while still a student, he was studying with his classmates, and went to rest at the top of a bell tower. He then descended and returned to his friends, who looked at him and asked what had happened: “You are pale, white as paper! What happened?” He responded “First give me a cup of tea, I will come to my senses and then tell you.” He then told them how he went up the tower to enjoy the view, leaning against a railing. The railing bent and gave way, and he began to fall from the great height. He couldn’t seize hold of anything, and was to fall to certain death. But something inexplicable and miraculous occurred; when he was already falling, and death was certain, an unseen, powerful hand pushed his chest with such strength that he fell, but not forwards, but backward, into the bell tower.
This is how a guardian angel can preserve those whom God had sent him to. We know of many other instances when he shielded and protected a person.
Therefore remember: whatever happens to you, whatever calamity befalls, whatever catastrophe comes upon you, know that if you call upon your most-powerful and kind friend, your guardian angel, he will hasten to help you. Amen.